It was not long after Alicia Jaggasar first appeared on the parang circuit back in 1987 that her elegance and poise, energised by her passion and talent began to set her apart as parang royalty. Many regarded her as reminiscent of the late great Daisy Voisin. Over the years, these qualities combined with a deep sense of spirituality have always gotten her by. And as Jaggasar shared with Sunday Guardian last Tuesday, these qualities will continue to get her by as she steps out of the band Los Alumnos de San Juan on her own as a solo artiste.
Next Sunday at Queen’s Hall, the accomplished parang writer, composer, arranger and pioneer of a unique “Latin Fusion” music will present “Dare to be Me” a musical expression of who she is, featuring a treasury of her thoughts and emotions spanning her 35-year musical career. “Dare to be Me” will mark Jaggasar’s debut as a solo entertainer and she steps out with the affirmation that she has a lot more to say, a lot more to give beyond the parang season.
Set to get underway at 5 pm, the show will be presented in two parts. Ninety minutes of original Latin Fusion compositions with Jaggasar accompanied by gifted musicians in the auditorium will flow into music and dance under a “Christmas in July” theme complete with refreshments in the Garden Theatre’s vibrant outdoor setting.
A groovy salsa “Dime Mi Amor” dedicated to her late husband, Wayne Jagdeo asking: how will I live without you?, a parang crossover entitled “Music”, “the World In Front of Me” which talks about the world as her stage and a few pieces promoting world peace will form part of her self-written set. Jaggasar will be joined by other popular artistes including Baron, as well as Neval Chatelal who will help her launch their Bollywood parang fusion collaboration “Tukur Tukur”. She will also appear as part of the quartet “Nobody Lives Here” with Maria Bhola, Marcia Miranda and Vaughnette Bigford.
Alicia Jaggasar and Neval Chatelal will officially launch their Bollywood parang fusion at “Dare to be Me”.
Though Jaggasar has done solo appearances in the past, over the years, showcasing her dynamic band Los Alumnos de San Juan remained her priority and she mostly appeared with them. The pandemic’s economic squeeze on artistes and creatives, compounded by the passing of Jaggasar’s husband, the love of her life for some 30 years, to lung cancer last year prompted her new career direction.
Beloved as a talented pannist and parang composer and arranger, Jagdeo had been a founding member of Los Alumnos. His diagnosis after a positive COVID test results in November 2020 came as a shock, as was his passing just over a month later on January 5, 2021, at age 69. A retired Maths, Physics and Chemistry teacher, Jagdeo did not like visiting doctors, Jaggasar said.
“Sometimes if there were a few little things, I would say: why don’t you go check this. He would say: nah, I’m alright. So, it really did take me by surprise and it happened so fast. When the doctors spoke to me and told me about doing palliative care, at no point in time did I think he was going to die. I guess, as a believer you have faith and you pray. But it was so peaceful taking care of him. At no point did I feel burdened or like he was going to die, so it was hard when he did pass,” she recalled.
As her husband had been the main breadwinner, the impact on Jaggasar and their two children was especially harsh amid the pandemic.
“I was left with my son and my daughter both looking at university in front of them and I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do. After spending your entire life building an art, being into music, it was: what are you going to do now? As we know, parang is a very seasonal art form. So I had to make a decision, and look for other avenues.
“That is the main reason that I have decided to go solo and that in no way is it taking away from my 35 years of building Los Alumnos de San Juan with Wayne. I am always here to be with Los Alumnos de San Juan. We’re still going to parang,” she said.
As to what being a solo artiste will look like for her, Jaggasar who plays the cuatro, maracas and box bass said she plans to have her own productions and make appearances at local and international events year-round. She has always seen herself as a multi-faceted artiste, working across various genres and having peppered calypso, soca, chutney, folk and parang with a Latin flavour to come up with a “Latin Fusion” music.
Taking Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” for instance, she lyrically infused a Trinbagonian flair. She has also translated hits like Explainer’s “Lorraine” and Scrunter’s “Woman on D Bass” at times with help from Spanish professors and presented them in salsa or merengue styles. Her recently penned “Dime Mi Amor” is also an example of her “Latin Fusion,” but in an original composition, she explained. She hopes her style and flavour will bring a unique element to the typical lineup at major local events, and create an avenue for other parang and Latin-style artistes.
Alicia Jaggasar’s children, Michael and Maria.
Jaggasar presents her mixed music portfolio under her brand La Casa de Fusion (House of Fusion) which also offers training services, concerts, event productions, merchandising, charity, and more recently, her food business “The Kitchen.”
Having expressed herself through singing since the age of five, Jaggasar’s singing career is rooted in calypso, which she started singing at Mount Hope Junior Secondary and then at San Juan Senior Comprehensive. Through calypso, she sharpened what would become her signature diction, presentation and showmanship skills at school contests and competitions like NYAC’s (The National Youth Action Committee) Stars of Tomorrow and NWAC’s (National Women’s Action Committee’s) National Calypso Queen. Back then her contemporaries were artistes such as Devon Seale, Kurt Allen, Sheldon Reid. As Los Alumnos which she had joined began to experience rapid growth simultaneously, the demands of juggling both calypso and parang became too great and the latter became her first love. She applied the skills learnt in calypso to her parang performances.
“All these things I had to do to become a calypsonian...I just took these things that were my foundation and easily came across to the parang,” Jaggasar recalled.
The 11-time parang queen has led her band to the National Parang Band victory nine times. A Roman Catholic, Jaggasar’s deep spirituality drove her passion for the art form, she shared.
“And it was about promoting the life of Jesus Christ; that is what I fell in love with. You have to do the Anunciacion (which speaks about the conversation between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary when he appeared to announce that she would give birth to Jesus) and Nacimientos (songs about the birth of Christ).
As a parrandera, you would go house to house spreading the message of the birth of Jesus Christ. You would go to homes for the aged, Princess Elizabeth, the orphanages, that’s how we started and I really enjoyed doing that. “Growing up, everybody has a story and in my story, the Lord has been such a strength. In all my trials and tribulations, He has always been there.”
Her faith is helping her cope with the loss of her husband who was always at her side, helping her to organise and participate in activities from the simplest to major events.
She takes comfort that he has left a rich legacy through the band and his children.
“I think ‘Dare to Be Me’ is also a tribute to him and all that he would have done because as somebody said: he is not gone, a lot of him still lives on.”
In the same way she stood with her husband taking care of him round the clock until his final moments, in the height of her preparations for the concert,
Jaggasar has also taken the time to nurse her 84-year-old father back to health as he tested positive for COVID at the beginning of this month.
She feels blessed that she was around to save him from a fall and that he recently received a negative result despite his underlying health issues.
Now back on track in her preparations for her concert, Jaggasar is aided by her niece Christine Clement to whom part of the proceeds will go. Clement who had expected to earn a scholarship to study medicine is on a quest to go to Keele University.
Giving has always come naturally to Jaggasar and as a notably charitable person who has been generous to others on a personal level and through Los Alumnos, she admitted that she was a bit disappointed that during the pandemic very little assistance was forthcoming for creatives like herself. The trying time helped her strengthen her relationship with God and she learned the value of self-care and appreciation, and family. Relying on her faith, she also found herself learning lessons in humility.
“What slapped me hard was humility. I feel as if I was stripped and it was to teach me that there are people around that you have to depend on. Now it’s your time that you have to be open to receiving. Like receiving a hamper for me was like what? I would be giving hampers, money to help people pay bills and here I was having to say yes to a hamper and other things I would not normally have had to.”
Through it all, her daughter, Maria Jagdeo, 22, has been her rock. The NPATT assistant secretary and a lead singer of the band BB Serenaders, she is completing her final year at UWI in Banking and Finance and has taken control of the family budget in the last two years, her mother revealed.
Jaggasar’s 19-year-old son, Michael, who also started a degree at UWI in Banking and Finance with Music took a year off to take on a job and help with family expenses. His mother said that he, too, is passionate about music, was a founding member of a band at his alma mater CIC, is musical director and plays the percussion with Los Alumnos and performs with cultural groups like Malick Folk Performing Company and Wasafoli T&T.
But she has warned him about the financial risk of becoming an artiste. Jaggasar was adamant that she would do all in her power to ensure that her children complete their father’s dream that they finish university.
The parang stalwart and passionate educator, who has passed on the art form through programmes to students at numerous schools in the country would also like to raise awareness about depression, particularly among young people as a result of her recent experiences. She has introduced the topic via her Monday night series “My Cuatro and I” on her Facebook page. She is also considering starting an inspirational blog.
The visionary founder of this country’s first National Parang orchestra also hopes to have a Latin Festival under the Parang Association and is in talks with the Spanish embassy and various Latin American embassies. She continues to cherish her personal dream of sharing the stage with celebrated Latin American singer and composer Juan Luis Guerra one day.
For now, Jaggasar looks forward to being on the cast of a host of “Christmas in July” shows and a Darren Sheppard concert in August. Stepping out on her own kindles a mixture of excitement and curiosity to see how her creativity will be challenged, she said.