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Parang love keeps this family together

Sunday, December 22, 2013
Guerrero Ladies singing in the Cafe Mariposa garden. PHOTOs: Ariann Thompson

For many, Christmas might be about getting the best gift or having the most delicious food, but for the Guerrero family, Christmas magic comes from sharing music with family and loved ones. 



Nestled in the lush hills of Lopinot, 58 Lopinot Settlement to be exact was buzzing with life: Baron’s “Spanish Woman” hummed in the background; voices sang in deep reverence; songs of parang queen Daisy Voisin could be heard; the smell of bread pudding and cocoa tickled one’s olfactory memory; and rushing images of a large family, laughter and Christmas came to mind.



At any moment, Guerrero family members would erupt into song—from parang, for which the family has become most known, to popular music of yesteryear, such as Swedish group ABBA and Neil Diamond. 



‘Respect parenderos’ ...people think of you as toothless rum drinkers

Six (out of eight) family members were present for Friday’s interview with the Sunday Guardian. 
The bond between the close-knit group was evident as the family gathered at their restaurant and guest house, Cafe Mariposa, to tell of their love for music. It all started with a father who shared his love for music with his eight children (seven girls and one boy). It’s a tradition they tightly cherish: singing has bonded them deeply as a family, just as the family are united in their dream to develop their restaurant. 


The Guerrero’s story reads like a pull-out from The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers, only it was uniquely Trinbagonian, with parang as the centrepiece. 


It began with the family’s maternal grandfather, Cornelius Ciprian Ruiz, who taught “authentic” parang to UWI students, visitors and even to some of today’s popular parang singers. The six girls (Brenda Guerrero-Salina, Gail Guerrero Tsoi-a-Sue, Margot Guerrero, Marcia Guerrero, Bianca [Guerrero] Hamel-Smith, Hyacinth Guerrero-Huggins) who sat in the interview, recalled that Ruiz would often use his Spanish bible to compose “authentic” parang. (Arthur Guerrero and Gillian Guerrero-de la Bastide, who played the guitar and cuatro, and who were the first and last of the children, were both absent from the interview.) 


The group’s musical lineage did not stop there. The family’s mother and father, Benedict (now deceased) and Hildred Guerrero, met in the Lopinot RC Church choir. However, the group’s father did not want his children to have a career in music. While, they said, he was proud of his children singing, he was uncertain whether they could earn a living from the art. 


“My father always saw that (music career) as not a good profession,” Margot said. She said he wished for all of his children to become teachers (he was an agriculture teacher). The group began singing, they said jokingly, “straight out of the womb.” The group was a staple on the local music and parang scene in the 70s and 80s. The group could not offer an exact start date but said that they often sang around the house and “the bed was their stage.” Moonlit nights, in Lopinot, were often accompanied by their singing.


“There was no television and no electricity. So moonlit nights were concert nights,” Margot said. The family’s musical career saw them perform for the country’s first prime minister and president, Dr Eric Williams and Sir Ellis Clarke respectively, as well as former prime minister Patrick Manning. The group also has under their belt a music festival win (1984—family class) in which they won the Cynthia Alfred Cup. They’ve performed on Aunty Kay (Twelve and Under show) and at some “10,000 weddings.” 


“We went on Aunty Kay, and I was possibly four years old,” Bianca said, “and we sang Santa’s reindeer and we came first…When we went, it was on a truck in the Savannah,” she added, with the others laughing at the memory. The family wants the “authentic” parang to be maintained. Asked if the art of “authentic” parang has been lost in T&T, the group said, “We are hoping that it is not quite lost. We see what is happening with the school children, how the teachers are teaching them the authentic parang.”


Bianca said as a judge at one of the school competitions, the passion she saw in the children gave hope. She said she wanted to see more authentic parang being composed. Parang, the group said, was about the birth of Christ.  There are also the Eastern and Lenten parang forms.


“Parang is a reverent sort of thing. When you sing about coro, coro, you are singing about the celestial choirs. It has to have some kind of meaning. When making songs, do some research and determine if it is appropriate to continue on that line. For (some people) it is just a song…” Bianca said, speaking of people who often create songs with little regard for the meaning.


The group would like to see greater respect shown to paranderos as musicians. The group said they often sang for free at most events and that little has changed from the 80s to now. Paranderos, they said, still performed free at many events. The group stopped singing at many events because of the “disdain” often shown to paranderos. “We stopped singing parang for years because of that. Because they think of you as rum drinkers…toothless rum drinkers, and I did not want to be associated with that,” Marcia said. 


The group plans to create a CD with their grandfather’s compositions, as a tribute to him, entitled Viva Ciprian, Viva Parang. There will be ten tracks on the CD which will be available in August 2014. 


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