Every member of the cultural cogniscienti must know of the spirit of community that our many steelbands have engendered in their own local enclaves e.g. Laventille and Desperadoes, Hellyard and All Stars, St. James and Invaders. What is lesser known is that a group of parranderos of equally humble beginnings would so come to epitomize the serene village of Santa Cruz that today many still argue that their renown far outstrips that of the other Lara, Brian.
Some sixty odd years ago Antonio, Tito, Willie and Victor with their father Ignacio formed the Lara Brothers, naming the band after their mother, Lena Lara. At that time they all lived in the serene Caura valley. Lena loved to sing Parang songs and imbued her entire family with the imperishable flame of music. (Interestingly, this band, that takes its very name from a woman would remain an all male ensemble for its entire existence).
The incredibly warm tradition of house to house Parang, with its open door hospitality, had become dormant due to World War Two. The Lara Brothers must have been quite happy to see the end of the War and immediately re-commenced this immensely noble tradition with unbridled enthusiasm. Theirs was the joy of bringing the music from house to house and sharing their stories with friends as they proceeded even in the most inclement weather to spread the Good News from Christmas to Léwa.
Not content to only keep this tradition alive, the band would soon make its foray into recording. It is now history that they brought a sound all their own to the artform, with a type of male harmonic presence that to this day remains unique. Their vocal delivery was so smooth and serene that many wondered at the absence of female voices in the band. Visionaries that they were, they would very early in their recording career do the unthinkable: record the calypso ‘Cow in Morvant’ as a Parang song. This was, believe it or not, twenty years before the birth of SocaParang! The band has over the years built up an extensive repertoire of songs with Willie Lara alone claiming some sixty-seven compositions.
The Lara Brothers perform as a band all year round. They do not see Parang as seasonal but are probably the only band left that still observes the traditions of Easter and May Cross. Add to this the great demand for performances by the band and you would find that they perform on more weekends in one year than many bands do in two or three years.
Brothers Antonio, Victor and Tito have all gone on to sing in that great Parang band in the sky. The venerable and stalwart Willie continues to lead the band even at the age of eighty one, showing absolutely no signs of letting up. Having won every possible accolade including a Humming Bird (Silver) Medal, one might ask, “Why continue?” The answer must come from a phrase constantly used by Tito to explain everything about Parang: “Is de love!” We have seen that love made manifest in the music of these truly remarkable gentlemen. May it live on forever.
Richard Mendez and Ricardo Rambally
The Lara Brothers
This family of four brothers (Antonio, Tito, Willie, Victor), and two sisters is proud to be related to the cricket superstar, Brian Lara, through more than one connection. They started singing in Caura with their father, lgnacio Monastero, in the 1940’s. Ignacio was Venezuelan and only spoke Spanish. As he got old and left the band they took the maiden name of their mother, Lena Lara, and became the "Lara Brothers". The youngest brother, Victor, left the band because of pressure of work but still gives guest appearances with them. The oldest, Antonio, stayed with the band nearly up to the time of his death three years ago. The brothers welcome newcomers open-heartedly. Andrew La Fortune, who was originally from Moruga, appeared with his guitar one Friday during rehearsals and asked to join. He is one of the best parang guitarists and also plays the mandolin. Irvine Antoine also from Santa Cruz, joined the band, in the very early days when he was just 16 years of age. And so others have been recruited by the band, including many of Tito’s sons, two of whom, Carlos and Daniel, are still with them.
In the early days, though, seven was the magic number for the band. There are wonderful rich stories that the Lara Brothers tell of the early times. People would feel that Christmas spirit stealing upon them, tune up their instruments and move spontaneously through the countryside, singing as the spirit moved them. When they reached a house they would sing Serenal or Pasen Pasen, songs for the ‘opening of doors’. Then the friendly host would invite them in to sing three or four songs. Often the host would give them drink and put food to cook. Now and again the sessions lasted quite long - in some cases they spent as many as two or three days at a hospitable house! Sometimes they were not so fortunate. Tito and Willie remember with laughter one dark night when very heavy rain caught them in a cocoa field. But rain could not quench their spirits. They kept on going and eventually found a home, some good strong coffee, and off they went again! Many people would join using makeshift instruments, such as bottle and spoon, singing for the joy of performing and sharing. Some of the singing was pure picong, lively rivalry between two or more singers in a quick up-tempo beat. The laughter, the food, the merry singing filling the warm country air - that was the perfect way to heighten anticipation and make the Christmas season memorable.
There were sad occasions for parang as weil, such as, the death of someone. Then VeiIIe Croix, which strangely is French, would be performed. The mourners would sing endless verses in a particular beat before an altar from morning until near midnight. (The wake was also called a Velorio de Cruz). The altar would then be removed and guest parranderos would then be invited to sing traditional songs until dawn. The ritual would be performed on each anniversary of the death of the person.
Tito and Willie remember the names of some early pioneers of parang - Papa Gun, Ramos Fuentes -and remember the first competitions which were held at Piarco Junction and later at the Arima Grandstand. The Lara Brothers were founding members of the National Parang Association in 1958.
Parang, like everything else, has succumbed to modern technology, in this case electronic instruments. These have introduced experimentation with Latin beats and other changes. Calypso has also had a powerful influence on parang. The Laras feel poignantly the loss of Daisy Voisin, whose singing had a real Venezuelan flavour. They feel that what now exists is largely "socaparang". The traditional song is being forgotten as it is so often ignored or "modernized" in favour not only of the new beat but also the new kinds of lyrics that are loosely called "parang". The house to house singing is quietly dying out. How can the old joy, sharing, spontaneity and openness of the old times be re-kindled? The Lara Brothers are determined to stay with traditional instruments and the lovely singing that celebrates the birth of Christ and the festive hospitality of rural Trinidad.
In this Lara Brothers’ collection one finds the traditional range of true parang, from religious themes anticipating and celebrating the birth of Christ to songs of everyday life. For instance, there is the Coronaron, a song about different crowns, gold, silver, thorns. There is Vamos, picong for those leaving a house ("Put on the table paper and pen to sign my name when I’m leaving"). There is also the beautiful En Santa Helena, written for their mother who used to enjoy singing parang and other songs. It is a romantic tale of a young man approaching a pretty girl and uses the colours of flowers to illustrate feeling. Gaita is another picong song of friendly rivalry. Pasen, Pasen. and Serenal are very popular songs used almost exclusively ‘for opening doors’. While they tend to stay with the same lyrics, they write two or more new melodies every year.
The Lara Brothers is one of the most enduring and popular of all parang bands in Trinidad. Their engagements between October and early January usually number 35 for the season. They are looking ahead for the future of parang and feel that Latin America should be targeted for the promotion of the art form. Latin Americans respond enthusiastically to the sound of their language, Spanish, sung in new accents and expressing a different tradition. As parang catches on in these countries it should undergo new developments again, an exciting prospect.
Written by: Simeon L. Sandiford
Lara Brother's Tunes|
Some of lara Brother's tune...feel free to add to the list!
Paying Respect to Tito Lara at His Wake
courtesy of Triniview.com
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