There are many styles of music originating in Trinidad and Tobago, all played at high volume, and all played with energy and obvious joy. Research into the local music gets complicated in a most satisfying way. Each type of music has identifiable characteristics, but the influences are as intermingled as Trinidad and Tobago’s blend of different cultures.
Last weekend, the crew of ‘Beach House’ dressed up for an evening of music.
We went into Port of Spain with eight other cruisers on a Jesse James outing. Yes, that’s his name. Jesse is the cruisers’ favourite tour guide in Trinidad. This particular event was 'Parang and Steel 2009' at the Silver Stars Pan Yard.
These panyards are open air night clubs sandwiched between downtown buildings which become the surfaces for the swirling lighting effects. The hundreds of regulars seem to know each other as they mingle and wander through the tented table areas.
There’s no table service – you go up to the bar – that’s if you haven’t brought your own bottle of rum. And there’s a small food kiosk with several modest choices.
The evening is really about the music. Most of the crowd eventually leave their tables and gather in front of the stage to watch the entertainment and to dance.
The first act was Los Dominicos, a local parang group. Parang is Hispanic folk music that originated in Trinidad during Spanish rule. The four women sang and played out front with simple acoustic instruments.
Traditional parang in Trinidad is performed around Christmas, sometimes in English but more often in Spanish. Our North American ears weren’t attuned to parang, but we enjoyed the exposure to something new.
The other invited performer was Kenny J. He’s a former Trinidadian police officer who won a Calypso competition in 1988 and has performed full time ever since.
Kenny J. is a bit of a lounge lizard ……
…… right down to his shoes. But he’s a hell of a performer ……
…… and the crowd knew every word of every song in his set. There were obvious double entendres, often with hand gestures, and there were references to Christmas in most of his numbers. We’re not sure if these were actually holiday songs or if Kenny J. simply found a way to introduce the season into the lyrics.
Then the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra took to the stage and made it clear why they won the Panorama 2009 contest at Trinidad’s Carnival last February.
They've also played at Caribana in Toronto.
There were about fifteen performers on stage and their intensity and sense of fun was infectious.
One long and wonderful number was The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera. The orchestra’s young leader and arranger, Edwin Pouchet, left his drum to come front and centre to conduct the number. There was such a crush of spectators around the stage, that the blog photographer couldn’t get close enough for a good shot. Edwin is blocked in the picture above - you can see him better on our blog title picture – he’s the young man in the middle.
The band members in the back row were enjoying themselves too, especially the woman on the left playing the bass drums.
That smile never left her face and was reflected in the audience faces.
We stayed till midnight – the real midnight, not cruisers’ midnight – tired, but toe-tapping all the way home. And just to round out our introduction to some Trinidadian music styles that night, the club on shore beside our anchorage had been rented out for an east Indian party and they were still going strong when we got home. The music was intriquing – not quite Indian, not quite island, not quite familiar.
We did a little more research the next day. When slavery was abolished here in the mid 1800s, east Indians were brought to Trinidad as indentured servants. They now form a signifcant percentage of the population and chutney music is one of their contributions to island culture. Chutney music is based on traditional Indian folk songs and borrows rhythms from calypso and soca. So now you know.
Describing music doesn't really work. Check out the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRN_peW5dn4 - you'll notice a fuller complement of musicians than we saw perform last weekend.
By the way, you’ll find chutney and parang selections on YouTube as well. Crank up the sound and see what you think.