In numerology, the number 20 symbolises new beginnings, abundance, and manifestation – goals that are aligned with what soca artiste Destra Garcia has planned for 2023 and beyond.
The Queen of Bacchanal is celebrating 20 years in the soca industry, and marking the 20th anniversary of the release of her Carnival anthem, It’s Carnival – a track from her Red, White, Black album released in 2003.
“Personally, I can’t believe 20 years have gone by already,” Garcia told WMN.
“The opening line of that song is the seller. When people hear ‘Everybody take a jump, take a jump, take a jump up now,’ they go crazy. It’s played in every single fete all around to world. I still sing it in my repertoire and so does Machel (Montano),” with whom she collaborated on the song.
“It really embodies Trinidad Carnival. I remember that year everyone crossing the stage were singing the song. In fact, that’s how we got the footage for the video. It’s more than iconic; it’s sewn into the history of Carnival of TT and it was an honour and privilege singing it.”
And after missing out on performing for fans the Carnival in 2021 and 2022, this year Garcia is in celebratory mode with the release her 16th album – the third during a Carnival season: Red, White, Black in 2003, Hott in 2009 and Unchained which will be launched next month.
“The relevance of the name is a spin-off on feeling free, especially after the pandemic. I feel a musical freedom like I can just do music and put it out there. There is one track called Never Gonna Let Me Go, I’m baring my soul on that song…It stems from missing the Carnival and the people so much.”
She said the album started off with 13 tracks, but now has 15 which will highlight the many moods of Destra.
“Every song is different. There’s power, groovy, double entendre, nostalgic…I made it with a lot of love. I tend to not have favourites with the music, but as time goes by depending on the reaction of the audience, then certain songs become my favourites to perform.”
And for the first time she is embracing her Latin heritage in her music – her mother’s Spanish lineage and her father’s Venezuelan.
“I’ve played with different languages in music, but it was always dominantly English. The track, Fuego, which means ‘fire’ is soca done entirely in Spanish… In it I’m telling the many Venezuelans here who have never experienced Trini Carnival how to enjoy it,” although she is not as fluent in Spanish as she is in French.
Going forward, Destra said she has no intention of holding back because of the time, opportunities and people the last three years have taken from her.
“So many friends and colleagues have passed during the pandemic, and not necessarily from covid. It’s just eerie and gives you a sense of your own mortality. It makes me more appreciative of life and things I often take for granted. You know sometimes we tell ourselves, ‘We have time,’ but not all of us have a lot of it. Everything I do now I do it with 100 per cent passion and I try to get it done now…Also, to take time to let people know I love them. I love my friends and my fans and I want them to know it.”
Garcia said so many members of the entertainment industry who have died over the past few years have all had positive influences on her at some point during her career.
“Singing Francine (Edwards) was among the giants. I grew up hearing her music because my mother and aunts were all fans…I met Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) through Roy Cape and he was a mentor…Blaxx (Dexter Stewart) grew up with me in Roy Cape…Explainer (Winston Henry) passed on so much wisdom to me…Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba), his daughter and I were in the same class in school, and when I performed at school he would put his Rapso chain around my neck for good luck… Singing Sandra (DesVignes-Millington) went to school with my mother.
They were all connected to me in some sort of way, and they have touched my spirit.”
Garcia said her reaction to the covid19 pandemic and its effects began with shock, which then turned to despair.
“I had not been able to leave TT to go to perform at the shows that were booked. I had been booked for Greece, Portugal in addition to the usual carnivals and I couldn’t believe I couldn’t go…Then I had to start sending back deposits.”
Eventually, she said, she started to feel trapped within her own house.
“Every day it was the same routine, watching the four walls. Even when I went outside, there were walls. I started to get a kind of end-of-world feeling. I got lazy, put on weight through one lockdown after another.”
During that time, though, she did discover a few talents, one of which she wants to continue to explore. She hosted 33 episodes of season one of The Destra Garcia Show on WESN TV, interviewing various guests and discussing everything Caribbean.
“The WESN team, headed by Louis Lee Sing came to me with the idea. It was a wonderful experience. My sister Kalifa Garcia-Mahadeo and Rochelle Johnson were the producers, and I have to thank them because it was a live show…I’m usually the interviewee so this was a different hat… I would like to do a second season.”
And although she is not new to writing, as she has written some of her own songs, in 2021 she co-authored a book, Virago-Warrior Women which was released on November 25 of that year. The book features a collection of personal stories from some of TT’s influential women, among them Garcia, Nikki Crosby, Mickela Panday, Michelle Borel and Penelope Spencer.
Her chapter is entitled B–chism Explained.
“In as much as I am a fun person, I’m also no-nonsense. I speak my mind, I’m forthcoming, not deceitful, and as a result I do not have a lot of friends. People see this as me being a b–ch, but my dad always taught me to speak my mind. I’m very real about everything…Sometimes I temper it, but I choose my battles and who I want in my space. If we disagree about something and I tell you how I really feel, that’s means I really consider you and want to save our friendship.”
Part of the proceeds from Virago was given to a women’s shelter.
“I am passionate about women’s issues and if I had my own charity, it would be something like that.”
Garcia said by the time the pandemic was no longer considered as threatening and things began opening up, she had become paranoid. But when she finally began to travel again she realised that the paranoia in TT was worse than in other places and she gradually started to relax.
“I toured more, enjoyed carnivals and festivals, but then I started to miss my own Carnival. Let me tell you, there is nothing like Trinidad Carnival anywhere. It’s not just playing mas on the road, it’s the whole experience – the food, the energy, the nocturnalness of it. Everywhere is always alive during the season, music is always playing, it’s just a happy vibe. I am so looking forward to this season.”
She refuses to take anything for granted any more, and plans to use every opportunity to interact with people, her fans, and enjoy the energy of Carnival 2023.
“I was never the party type, even when I was a teenager. My first party was when I performed for the first time with Roy Cape.
“This year, though, you will be seeing me popping up at random events, enjoying Carnival, even if I’m not in the show. Feel free to say ‘hi’ and take a pic. On Carnival day I never go on the truck unless I have to sing. I go on the road and I play mas, and that’s what I will be doing this year. I belong to the people when I’m on the road. I enjoy them as much as they enjoy seeing me.”
But, Garcia said, before she switches to entertainment mode, there is one thing she ensures is always at the top of her list of priorities – her parental role.
“For me there is no real work/life balance, so I have to do a lot of prep and planning. I’m the mother of three girls – my biological daughter and my two nieces who have been living with me since the pandemic. I’m a pretty cool mother and aunt, but I run a tight ship while making sure they have everything they need…Education is key to me; I want them to be strong, focussed and educated. I let them know, ‘let’s not play, this is still a man’s world. It’s very competitive, you have to work twice as hard, so you need to bring your A game.’ I want to teach them how to deal with the pressures of life, how to stay focussed. It’s hard for them sometimes, but it’s my mom duties and I never leave that undone.”
Fortunately for her, she doesn’t have to do it alone as she has a strong support system.
“I have really strong family ties, because family is important. And I’m not just talking about blood family.”
And even as the Queen of Bacchanal gets set to break loose for Carnival 2023, she already has a post-Carnival agenda.
“I feel ready for Carnival, and now that I’ve done the album I want to explore doing different things like a Christmas album, an international album and a gospel album.
“Of course I’m still going to be touring. I tour every year because it’s part of my life and DNA.”
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