Jerrod Johnson is the point of the spear of a new wave of soca parang music.
Aptly, Johnson is known in music circles as Bongo Spear. The Palo Seco-born musician catapulted into the national consciousness last year with his parang soca hit “Ah Not Eating”. His comical refrain of “ah not eating nothing dat smelling so” after being offered “food” by a neighbour’s wife became the unofficial anthem of Christmas 2020.
While impressive, Johnson’s seemingly overnight success brought more questions than answers. Many were left asking what really is a Bongo Spear? Where did that name come from? And who really is this artiste? Johnson says Bongo Spear is an ordained title.
“Back in my early childhood days we would always be singing and everyone would pick a nickname; either ah ‘Ranks’, ah ‘Ranking’ or ah ‘Banton’. So, while singing, a friend from primary school who I grew up with from inception called me ‘Bongo Spear’,” Johnson started saying on Thursday morning during a WhatsApp exchange with the Express.
“I laughed and asked: ‘What did you call me?’ She repeated ‘Bongo Spear’. “But, I didn’t really take it on, it wasn’t anything serious so I laughed at it.”
Much to his surprise and wonder the name resurfaced a few months later during a visit to a Rastafarian tabernacle.
“I was at that time growing my hair in a Rastafarian style, I attended a tabernacle, they had a feast, and they were playing drums and I began to sing. The Priestess which is the wife of the Priest said: ‘Youth man you know you sounding like a Bongo man?’.
“I stood there listening, she then continued to say: ‘And look at your hair. I’m seeing a spear in your head’ because three of my locks were stuck together and they stood up.
“Then she said ‘Your name is Bongo Spear’. I asked her to repeat what she had said after which I told her someone had called me that before. She proceeded to say it was ordained. And I am to be called Bongo Spear. And I thought it was a little more than coincidence and from then the name stuck and it has been Bongo Spear up to today,” he revealed.
Johnson believes his mission as a musician is to edify his listener while entertaining. His follow-up soca parang release, “Dat Is Parang”, seeks to do just that by providing his personal insight and thoughts on the genre to his attentive audience.
“’Dat Is Parang’ was inspired by people outside of Trinidad continuously asking what parang was? Was it like carnival? Was it a special kind of everyday music? So from those types of questions I decided to explain through song, to even people here in Trinidad who don’t understand what it is really like to parang, especially those in south Trinidad. In every area the tradition would be slightly different. So I just tried to explain what is parang from the area where I grew up,” he said.
A born musician
Growing up in Palo Seco in the south of Trinidad Johnson was surrounded by music from birth. His father was a DJ and as a young curious boy he soon started fiddling with the turntables.
“I had one elder brother who would mix music on the turntables, and I was the mic man or the MC, so since I could remember it has always been music,” he recalled.
Johnson’s unique perspective fuels his unusual approach to parang soca. And while it remains a sub-genre that many parang purists frown upon, he believes both traditional parang and its new crossover blends work in tandem to keep the entire genre relevant in a soca and Carnival focused era.
“I would say the music is now making a comeback onto the airwaves. A few years ago, it was being stifled and squeezed out by soca and carnival, so the time for parang music was shortened, until two or so years ago when we started having Christmas in July and other artistes started to get into the parang genre,” Johnson explained.
The debate over the place of hybrid parang genres in the Christmas season will forever be a subjective one he conceded. However, he remained adamant that all traditional artforms be always given reverence and respect.
“I believe each to his own because songs like people evolve. At the same time, we need to pay respect and attention to the roots and where it all began. Some would stick to and love the traditional parang and some would embrace the new mixes and other types of fusion that would evolve into making parang music heard on a wider scale, especially the younger generation.
“Everything evolves and change is the only constant thing we know that exists. So, there is a give and take when coming to the difference styles of music. I would understand that yes, some purists are totally against that, but again to each his own. People would always be themselves and people would always like different things. I am of all genres, I love music on the whole. I love traditional and I love the mixes. But again we must always pay respect to the foundation of where it all began,” he said.
Whatever your preference Johnson says he hopes all incarnations of parang music can work together to lift the spirits of the people of T&T as they prepare to celebrate another Christmas under the cloud of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“Music is always there to brighten your day and lighten the load. And most times help you get through difficult situations and times. So, I believe music is even more important now than ever to help you to free your mind and focus on what you’re doing. So my plans are to just do more music and keep on doing what I love as the time goes by,” Johnson concluded.