Parang in Brooklyn

"Jacob was the first promoter, in Brooklyn to promote the culture…"

—Leon Coldero, "Parangin in Brooklyn"

 

It's parang season again, and I recently spent a little time at the house of one Thomas Jacobs, a native of Trinidad who has lived in the United States since 1969. I met Mr. Jacobs, also known as "The Captain," in October 2004 when I was a young doctoral student at New York University. At the time, I was working on a paper on the parang scene in Brooklyn, and decided to call the number on the back of a flyer advertising a parang festival later that year. The number belonged to Mr. Jacobs, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

For the uninitiated, parang (from the Spanish, parranda) is a tradition practiced in and heavily associated with the Christmas season in Trinidad & Tobago. Historically, the Christmas parang tradition included wandering groups of musicians who traveled to the homes of family, friends, and strangers to serenade them with Christmas songs. Reflecting Trinidad's Spanish colonial heritage and its ties to neighboring Venezuela, these songs were traditionally sung in Spanish. They included greeting songs, songs that relayed the Christmas story—from the Annunciation to the birth of Christ—and farewell songs, among others. The house-to-house tradition of parang was practiced mainly in the rural areas of the country where many Spanish speakers were found. However, today parang is practiced throughout the country. The parang season takes place approximately from October through January 6th, also known as Feast of the Epiphany, Three Kings Day, or Lewah (from the French, Les rois).

Today, parang is a recognizable fixture in New York. However, that was not always the case. Although Trinidadians had been migrating to New York in significant numbers since the 1960s, the first parang show in Brooklyn did not take place until the late 1980s. When Mr. Jacobs finally organized the first parang show, scheduled to take place on December 5, 1987 at the Esquire Hall on Empire Boulevard in Brooklyn, many assumed that the project would be met with failure. Who would be interested in a parang show in Brooklyn? However, Mr. Jacobs understood that the parang tradition lived in the hearts of many Trinidadian immigrants living in New York, especially those from parang-laden rural areas outside the capital city of Port-of-Spain. That first show in 1987 was a success, and in the years that followed, the parang festival would only grow with Jacobs bringing some of the best and brightest of the parang culture to New York. Over the years, Jacobs has hosted parang legends such as Daisy Voisin, the Lara Brothers, and the San Jose Serenaders. Also, he has cultivated a successful thirty-year relationship with Los Tocadores, one of Trinidad's most respected parang groups.

 

It's been over thirty years since Mr. Jacobs held his first parang concert. And just as in years past, he is still promoting the culture.  On Saturday, December 1, 2018 at Crystal Manor in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Mr. Jacobs will celebrate his 32nd year of promoting parang. The program will include traditional parang, soca parang, and chutney parang, and will feature the Trinidad-based, Los Tocadores and the Canada-based Los Pajaritos. Other artists include Gypsy, Becket, King Ajamu, and more. So whether you are new to parang or a long-time aficionado, come celebrate a Caribbean Christmas in Brooklyn.

 

When: Saturday, December 1, 2018, 9pm—3am

Where: Crystal Manor, 1460 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11210

Tickets: $50 (More at door)

Contact: 718-922-6964; 718-251-2172