Parchís, the tween pop group formulated by a Barcelona record company in 1979, released 20 albums, starred in seven movies, became a household name in Mexico, sold more albums than The Beatles in Peru and played Madison Square Garden before the group disbanded in 1985.
“Parchís wasn’t successful; Parchís was a social phenomenon,” Ignacio Janer, the former international director of the record label Discos Beltran, says in a new Netflix documentary that tells the story of the band. Like other bittersweet behind-the-music docs, this one follows the group’s rise and fall vintage footage and anecdotes from band members and others involved about sex, life on the road (in this case without parental chaperones) and money gone missing.
The group’s original members, two girls and three boys, had responded to a casting call seeking children between 8 and 12 years old “with a good sense of rhythm.” Named for the board game parcheesi, they were dressed in satin outfits in colors of the game’s pawns. Their first song was “En La Armada,” a Spanish version of Village People's “In the Navy.” As the documentary reveals, payola quickly ensured the band’s exposure, and their success with the younger set went way beyond what the label had envisioned. They sold millions of albums and played concerts for up to 10,000 adolescent fans.
Soon, the members of Parchís were away from their parents, first crammed into their manager’s car on tours through Spain, and then flying to gigs in South America; soon they were staying for extended periods in Mexico, where, the documentary attests, they were pretty much given free rein in the hours they weren’t performing on stages or in studios.
“It was kind of chaos,” Parchís member Yolanda Ventura says in the film, laughing at the memory. “Nobody was watching over us.”
Going through puberty in the public eye, the band members had some of their first romantic and sexual experiences with each other, the film reveals. The eldest of Parchís members, Tono, emerged as the band’s frontman, a chick magnet who hooked up with fans, and also their mothers.
While the band members fondly describe moments of what one calls the best times of their lives, those interviewed also make clear that the young stars were manipulated by managers and “robbed” in a situation that was mishandled by their parents, a charge one father answers by explaining that they simply did not understand the workings of the music business.
Joaquín Oristrell, who came onboard as a chaperone for the band members when things had gotten out of hand, blames the parents. “[You had] a very bad record label, some perverted men, some exploiters. But they are your kids, there is no excuse.”
Without drawing definite conclusions, the film raises questions about what happened to the equivalent of more than $14 million that the band earned but never saw, with fingers pointing to both the band’s Mexican manager and the label, which later went into bankruptcy (some say under suspicious circumstances). Parchís dissolved, leaving its young members to figure out life outside of fame.