Sylvestre Betico Mata was born in Güiria, (pronounced Gweereeah), in the Paria Peninsular of Eastern Venezuela, on January 1st 1905. As a little boy in Güiria, Mata had been a participant in the house-to-house parang.

In 1916, at the age of eleven, he migrated to Trinidad as a refugee.1

1 Information received from family members.

His older brothers had already established themselves as parranderos in Trinidad, on cocoa estates in Moruga, south Trinidad. Young Mata joined them as an able parang cantor. He soon became a popular parrandero in Trinidad, manifesting great skill in the singing of aguinaldos.

By the year 1965, Mata, as lead-singer of the Ready Mix Parang Group, had been publicly recognized as a parrandero of merit. In 1968 his group won the National Parang Competition, and his first recorded album, Parang Dulce, was produced in 1972. That year he was awarded the Public Service Medal of Merit (Silver) for his contribution to parang. His second album, Tribute to Sylvestre Mata, was produced in the 1980s. Mata was considered a master in the art of singing the contrapunto, which is a poetic duel in song between two or more singers of decimas. Decimas were often improvised on diverse esoteric subjects of a quasi intellectual nature. He participated in the Velorio de Cruz (also known as Vieil Croix and Cross Wake) all over Trinidad in places such as Lopinot, Santa Cruz, Siparia, San Juan, St. Joseph, Erin, Rancho Quemado, Maracas and Moruga. Mata’s last Velorio de Cruz was held in Coconut Drive, San Fernando in 1978. He was a mentor to several parranderos, many of whom learned his songs. Mata died on April 26 th, 1987.

Here is one of several aguinaldos sung by Sylvestre Mata:

En aquella cueva            Into that cave
Ellos se metieron.          (Mary and Joseph) went.
Ahi fue que nació           There he was born
El Dios verdadero.          The one true God.

Oigan mi palabra,           Listen to my words
Digo prontamente.           I hasten to say
María dio a luz             Mary gave birth
Milagrosamente.             Miraculously.

Por él yo daría ,           For him I would give
Y también el coro,          And the chorus as well,
Cantando aguinaldos         Singing aguinaldos
Damos un tesoro.            We give a treasure.

En aquel pesebre            In that manger
Hubo de nacer               He was born
Un hermoso niño             A beautiful child
Con tanto poder.            With so much power.

Escuchen señores.           Listen everyone.
Esa fue la nueva;           That was the news:
Que María dio a luz         Mary gave birth
Y quedó doncella.           And remained a maiden.

María nació                 Mary was born
El 8 de septiembre.         On the eighth of September.
Jesús el veinticino         Jesus on the twenty fifth
Del mes de diciembre.       Of the month of December.

The above text is from the book Parang Cancionero by Sylvia Moodie-Kublalsingh.

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