“Ola de la Mar,” a Trinidadian “parang” song, most often sung in the middle of the night or in the early morning – loudly! – and most often in the Christmas season. The lyrics of the All Around This World sing of a sailor who savors the freedom of the vast, open sea: Ola de la mar, Ola de la mar, The ocean is forever, like the sun, the moon and stars, Ola de la mar, ola de la mar, The waves are my salvation, like the sun, the moon and stars….”
Proud and playful parang is a joyful genre of folk music from Trinidad, Tobago and Venezuela. It’s a staple of the Christmas season, when parang performers regularly start their singing before sunrise and sing LOUDLY to rouse their friends from their beds. This video from Lopinot, Trinidad, introduces us, gloriously, to Parang standard, “Rio Manzanares.” (We LOVE this.)
Trinidadian Soca is an exuberant form of calypso that has substantial influence throughout the Caribbean. Trinidadian musician Ras Shorty generally receives credit for originating it in 1963 when he added Indian instruments such as the dholak and the tabla to calypso. In the 1970s calypsonians such as Shorty had also added soul, disco and funk, transforming the genre into internationally popular dance party music. Today soca remains popular throughout the Caribbean. Why else would Mr. Dale have become a Soca Junkie?
Trinidadian “calypso” most likely derived from a West African musical/narrative style called kaiso and developed as a way for slaves to communicate. Calypso musicians sang in French creole and told stories with their songs–often with off-color lyrics full of double entendres. The style originated in the 1830s and was well-known throughout the Caribbean but only became internationally popular in the 1950s when Jamaican-born Harry Belafonte brought it to America. Enthusiasts accused Belafonte of watering down the genre and pointed to lyrically bolder (and much more awesomely named) artists such as Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow and Roaring Lion as the true “calypsonians.” In this video Mighty Duke schools us by asking and answering the question, “What is calypso?”
This week our online class takes us deep into the islands, to the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Like most of our other Caribbean island friends, Trinidad, which sits near its sister island Tobago in the southern Caribbean just northeast of Venezuela, was already inhabited before Columbus dropped by and told people there that they all of a sudden were living in Spanish territory. Trinidad’s first settlers, about, 5000 years ago, were Othroid people from the north coast of South America, then the Saladoid people, then the Barrancoid people. They were followed by Arawak and Carib people, who met their end shortly after Columbus and the Spanish encomienda system came to town. Trinidad remained Spanish colony until 1802 and a British colony until it became independent in 1962.
This week we’ll explore Trinidad’s multiethnic mix, especially enjoying music and culture created by descendants of enslaved Trinidadian Africans and South Asian indentured laborers who today intertwine to give Trinidad colorful, complex, Caribbean, life.
We end our week in Barbados with one more look at Landship. A popular Landship dance is the “plaiting” of a Maypole. The choreography of Landship often tells the story of the “Middle Passage,” the brutal transport of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. In a favorite dance, eight dancers “plait a Maypole,” turning multi-colored ribbons around a maypole until they’re very short, then them unwinding again. This tradition connects dancers with West African stories of the clever Anansi, an eight-legged spider, who was said to have helped the Akan people learn to weave and build houses.
I’m so happy you were able to come with me to Barbados this week. Tomorrow we travel to Trinidad and Tobago.
Yesterday we met “landship,” a Barbadian tradition that refers to both a dance performance group and an essential social-cultural community organization for the African-Barbadian community. Landships organize themselves into individual “ships,” named after British vessels, which unite into “fleets” under the leadership of “Lord High Admirals” and other “officers.” Landship performers will tell you they are not doing a dance; instead they are executing “manoeuvers” to the command of the Captain in the course of a parade. The primary musical “engine” of a landship is the Tuk Band, a drum/fiddle/triangle ensemble based upon British regimental military bands. In this video we hear a Tuk Band in action.
Landship, a tradition unique to Barbados, developed during the several centuries of British rule as a way for African Barbadians to emulate (and also satirize) the strict hierarchies of the British navy while using playful dance moves to reference a harsh history of slavery and colonialism. A landship is a Barbadian community dance society (“a ship on land”) whose members dress up like British naval officers and support staff and dance in processions like British naval officers do–sort of. More landship tomorrow.
The Merrymen is a band from Barbados that became popular in the 1960s due to its happy, uptempo calpyso — a style that became known as “blue beat — its flamboyant troubadour costumes and the very merry whistling of lead singer Emile Straker. while you’re watching a slideshow featuring the best album covers ever.
Many people in Barbados speak an inventive hybrid form of English known as Bajan. Speakers of the dialect revel in the playful nature of Bajan phrasing and pronunciation. For example, Bajan speakers pronounce “th” as “d” (such as “dem” instead of “them), leave “to be” out of sentences (“I here” instead of “I am here”) and use the same word three times for emphasis. So, instead of “This music class is great!” a Bajan speaker may say, “Dis music class good good GOOD.”