Conga Series - Anatomy of the Parade

The Chants of the Conga

The chorus of the moving chanting crowd is one of the most important components of the Conga parades, providing a discourse between the past and present through sing-song call and response story as folks tap deep into the beat and chant out lout in a public space about anything they wanna say with impunity. A taboo luxury found only on these special days of the parade. The big drums strum the warrior spirits so you feel a joy in fearlessness, lighter and stronger, firmly rooted with your feet hardly touching the ground as you light step along with the parade people moving their feet and rolling their hips, bodies close all round you together as one clapping, laughing, singing to the rhythms everybody knows as the chants call to mind truths you’ve been once wary to say aloud. Release.
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During the 3-8 hour parades, while the people sing traditional conga favorites, new songs always arise out of the ether with each journey through the telling streets. Enchanted out of the beat, these new songs are created in the spur of a rhythm by riffing virtuosos sifting through the under currents of the community, national politics, international politics, domestic issues, the TV soap opera dramas happening during that one moment in time seamlessly woven in-between versions of popular songs flowing with the right rhythms of the conga – in ear shot of the police, these riffing grios dropping knowledge on a breath of events so wide the songs become social commentary playfully challenging the institutionalized stringent social censorship while simultaneously pushing the bounds of the restrictive moral, religious and political mores. 
During the bigger Conga parades, primarily in the “Invasion” where two thousand to five thousand people come out into the streets to follow the drums, one can hear two basic types of chants:

1) Those following the call of the corneta china – the trumpeter plays the rhythm of classic conga’ssongs known by everyone in the parades with the dancing chorus responding in chant. A kind of orchestra of the street under the direction of the horn, the percussion as the rhythm section to support the calls with the spontaneous singing of the people filled with a heady fever of the right of release. This occurs mainly near the central part of parade near the drums of the band.

2) The second kind of chants are found towards the very back of the conga parade where usually only the faint echoes of the band’s big drums can be heard from much further up in the middle section of the procession. It is here in the back of the parade that songs inspired by improvisation are created and find small groups of followers responding in kind to the call of the riffing singers directing the response. The groups repeat the songs of different improvisers or just one depending on the quality and grace of each new stanza. In the back, these impromptu sonnets are accompanied by instruments such as cowbells, claves, sticks, bottles, cans, spoons, anything, to hammer a sound, in imitation of the rhythms of the conga. Within this part of the parade is where you often hear the choir’s most innovative and ingenious performances, for here, in the back, away from the frenzy of the big sounds of the many drums, is where the most audible calm can be found – a calm most conducive to the expansion of sophisticated and varied songs that folks can hear and sing back into the sky. 


Where does the rhythm come from?
What’s the green leaf in people’s hair?
What is the Invasion Parade?
What are the Visitations?
The Chants of the Conga
The Chakras of the Conga