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Meet Ayana “YaNz” Garcia - Trinidad & Tobago

“Those eight minutes are magical -  it’s what I wait for 364 days of the year. The emotion you feel telling this music story is like heaven on earth. Putting on that costume no matter how outrageous it may be, feels like masqueraders getting dressed for Carnival Monday and Tuesday. You the panist become an artist, painting a picture for the audience musically.” 

She has undoubtedly a natural drive for excellence in every aspect of her life. And when your godfathers are the likes of  legendary panist Robert Greenidge and the late great Grammy award-winning Ralph MacDonald - subscribing to greatness is almost a given. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - scholar, musician and soon-to-be PhD student Ayana Garcia shares her feelings, experiences, and insight into the Steelband music art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Ayana “YaNz” Garcia?”

Ayana  G. - “For as long as I can remember I have always been a creative person. From a very tender age I was exposed to music having lived next to Kitchener Revue Tent on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. If that wasn’t enough to spark my love for music/culture, having Robert Greenidge and Ralph MacDonald as godfathers, looking up to them as musicians and learning from them gave me the passion I now hold.

“I was also involved in piano with Ava Hutchinson-Agard, dance with Noble Douglas, drama with Penelope Spencer and Naima Thompson, and art with Sister Ann Marie Howard. My parents would always ask me “Ayana what do you want to be when you grow up?” And the answer would always change from artist to panist to producer/sound engineer. It wasn’t till I finished my bachelor’s degree and went to work at Triniscene.com that my boss, former mayor Louis Lee Sing told me “You will find your place here.” I came to the conclusion that I’m a creator/innovator. Creator of music, art, video or whatever else intrigues me.”

WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan? And which pan(s) do you play?”

Ayana  G. - “I became involved in pan at the age of three; my brother Saieed already had a tenor pan and every time Uncle Robert came he would write out notes for different simple songs. My parents and Uncle Robert gifted me with a double second pan so we could play these songs together. I’d have to stand on a box to play. We both were interested in music and pan from being around these two musical legends. We learnt rhythms from Uncle Ralph who would set up my mother’s pots, drinking glasses, staple machine (whatever we could get our hands on) and just make music. For the 22 years I’ve been playing I’ve played every pan with the exception of bass pans.”

WST - “Given that you’ve been a steelband musician for many years, what is most notably different in your opinion - from when you were a very young player, to now as an adult?”

Ayana  G. - “The difference for me would be loyalty. Now there is an increase in people playing for numerous bands in the same category. Though I have done same, it was just to experience the music. Playing the different styles from different arrangers makes you more of a versatile musician in my opinion especially considering I was doing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music. Another difference would be the music. I’m just still in love with the Panorama arrangements from the 1970s to the ones as recent as 2000.”

Ayana “YaNz” Garcia
Ayana "YaNz" Garcia

WST - “You’ve performed in Desperadoes, Silver Stars and Starlift steel orchestras (any others?). Share a bit on those experiences - the differences, similarities, and how they may have helped in your development as a performer, and a musician?”

Ayana  G. - “I’ve also performed in Phase II Pan Groove, Renegades, Pan Elders and Brimblers. Though I’ve played in all these bands, Desperadoes is my band. The hopping was simply for research and developing my skills. Each band has their style. I was fortunate enough to play the style of the late Edwin Pouchet before he passed which did help me improve my dexterity and speed. I can’t pick one particular arranger whose music is most difficult or the best quality, since to me they all produce unique interpretations of the music. On another side, the exposure to the various styles awards me the opportunity to combine them if I decide to be an arranger or to write lectures on them when I begin to teach.”

Ayana Garcia (center) with Asami Nagakiya (right)
Ayana Garcia (center) with Asami Nagakiya (right))

WST - “With reference to Silver Stars, you were friends with Japanese performing artist and steelpan musician Asami Nagakiya who was murdered in Trinidad in 2016. Do you have thoughts about what is apparently no progress in bringing to justice, the individual(s) responsible?”

Ayana  G. - “The situation is just heartbreaking and unfortunate. She was a remarkable musician, a great friend and a beautiful person inside out. I miss her everyday but when I play I do it for her, in honor of her. I wish the individual responsible could be held but at this point with there being no known progress, I just pray for her to be at peace wherever she is and for her family and friends to be eased of the pain.”

WST - “The legendary, iconic Robert Greenidge - (performing artist, arranger, composer) is your godfather - talk about your relationship with him through the years, his impact on you, and anything else you’re willing to share?”

Ayana Garcia with god father, Robert Greenidge (center), and brother Saieed
Ayana Garcia with god father, Robert Greenidge (center), and brother Saieed

Ayana  G. - “What can I say? I wouldn’t be “YaNz” Garcia if it wasn’t for Robbie Greenidge. He taught me the technique I now have, and growing up with someone so extraordinary to look up to made becoming a musician easy. His talent fueled my desire to do music professionally.

“When he comes to Trinidad for Panorama it’s the best. We would chat about his arrangement and others and just music in general. That’s like our own form of bonding. Of course I am brutally honest about my views on his arrangement. I critique him as I would anyone else. The drive from when he picks me up to when we get to the panyard and from there back home is strictly music, piccong and jokes. External to my immediate family, he is my favorite person and I  hope one day to be as great as he is or at least to leave an impact as he has.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and art form going?”

Ayana  G. - “The Pan Jumbie! It hits all of us pan players. I think being in it for so many years and loving what I do just makes it a natural passion.”

WST - “What are those eight/ten minutes like on stage for you, performing in Panorama - how do you feel?”

Ayana  G. - “Those eight minutes are magical - it’s what I wait for 364 days of the year. The emotion you feel telling this music story is like heaven on earth. Putting on that costume no matter how outrageous it may be feels like masqueraders getting dressed for carnival Monday and Tuesday. You the panist become an artist, painting a picture for the audience musically.”

WST - “Who, and what are you musical influences?”

Ayana  G. - “I have so many - Ralph MacDonald, Robert Greenidge, Marcus Miller, Lou Marini, Will Lee, Abraham Laboriel, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, Beethoven, Mozart, Franz Schubert and so many others.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama arrangement?”

Ayana  G. - “Not sure if I can pick one but I would say ‘Musical Volcano’ by Robert Greenidge and ‘Bees Melody’ by Jit Samaroo.”

WST - “Who is your favorite arranger and why?”

Ayana  G. - “My favorite two are Robert Greenidge and Jit Samaroo. They both have such unique styles and creativity.”

WST - “Being female, were you ever cautioned or perhaps even dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in steelband?”

Ayana  G. - “I was, not by my parents, but by friends of my parents and family who still viewed the pan community as being filled with bad influences and violence. This however didn’t deter me. I knew my heart was in it and nothing anyone told me would stop me.”

WST - “Do any of your family members play pan?”

Ayana  G. - “Only my brother and I but my parents are pan lovers, they chair an NGO Woodbrook/St. James Community Association that does Pan on D’ Avenue annually.”

Ayana "YaNz" Garcia

WST - “Some people external to the Caribbean, are still vague about the steelpan instrument, what it is, and even more so, the concept of a full-size Panorama orchestra. Are there still times you encounter non-Trinbagonian friends or people in general - to whom you have to explain the steel band art form?”

Ayana  G. - “That is very rare; however when I do encounter such persons it brings me joy to share with them our steeply history and culture, and what’s better is they are always engrossed and eager for this information. Part of the reason I pursued and completed the Master of Arts in carnival studies program was to be able to get more in-depth information on Trinidad and Tobago’s culture, and know how to translate this information to others. Also to adapt good research techniques. It’s one of my dreams to become a teacher.”

WST - “You are part of Triniscene.com; talk about your role within the organization?”

Ayana  G. - “My role as the Production Manager of Triniscene is to keep track of the jobs, equipment to be used on jobs and promoting the company’s services. Triniscene.com is a fifteen- (15) year-old digital media entertainment brand that is evolving into the country’s premiere live online television News, Current Affairs, Features, Sport and Entertainment entity. Triniscene.com already benefits from a large, established and growing visitor base, with a target demographic of youth and young adults between fifteen (15) to forty (40) years old. We also have a large visitor base from the Diaspora. Triniscene.com also prides itself on its dedication to supporting and propelling local arts and culture in keeping with our Corporate Social Responsibility and contribution to nation building.”

WST - “Does your involvement in the steelband art form complement your work with Triniscene.com in any way?”

Ayana  G. - “It does, as during the carnival season I am able to post and promote the steelpan-related activities on Triniscene’s social media pages. A few years ago Triniscene was given a contract to manage Pan Trinbago’s social media and my knowledge of the steelpan came in handy for the campaign.”

WST - “What is your opinion on the current state of Pan in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Ayana  G. - “I think pan is not showcased enough on social media. Social media is the age that we are in and simple things like video interviews with veterans, youths, management or even showcasing the activities held in panyards - these videos or social media campaigns can better educate the public and attract youths to the steelpan movement.

“Most people outside the pan movement are of the belief that pan only exists during Panorama; we have to showcase the activities outside the season. Other than that, we all know the pull-and-tug between the pan community and Pan Trinbago...  That is something that needs to be fixed because the only way we can move forward is if we solve the current problems.”

WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately what would that be?”

Ayana  G. - “Again - it would be to have a younger, more innovative, qualified and non-biased governing body. I’d also like if the ‘Pan In The 21st Century’/‘Pan Down Memory Lane’ competitions would be [revived and] revamped.”

WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Ayana  G. - “There are so many things I’m proud of when it comes to pan. But I must say the number of panists who are getting “music literate” pursuing certificates, diplomas and degrees in music is quite admirable.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelpan movement?”

Ayana  G. - “The fighting between Pan Trinbago and the members of the pan movement and the lack of respect we get from those outside of the movement.”

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Ayana  G. - “Panorama to me is a blessing; I cannot imagine carnival without Panorama. It also brings out the best in most bands. They put out the best music, best performance and best presentation all for one night. Most players perform at their best for Panorama as it’s the only major competition for the year. So without Panorama we may not be able to see the real potential of most bands.”

Ayana “YaNz” Garcia
Ayana S Garcia

WST - “What would be your advice to young and upcoming females who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours, especially with a focus on pan?”

Ayana  G. - “My advice to young and upcoming females would be to not let anyone look down on you as a female and don’t limit yourself to just playing pan. Being involved in pan is more than playing the instrument, there are females such as Candice Andrews-Brumant of Renegades and Chanel Pouchet of Silver Stars who have taken up managerial positions and are doing very well.”

WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”

Ayana  G. - “My vision is to see steelpan history/education/making as subjects in primary and secondary school. Pan should be offered in all schools and not only as an extra curricular activity.”

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”

Ayana  G. - “Just that pan deserves to be respected a lot more, but to be respected we must make changes and the bickering between the organization and pan men has to be sorted for people to take us seriously. Also showcasing pan more on social media can help others to understand us better and respect us.”

WST - “What is next for Ayana Garcia?”

Ayana  G. - “What’s next. I plan to pursue my PhD beginning in September of this year, 2018 - I’d be performing for the first time since I finished my degree at the North Coast Jazz with my brother. A solo Album is definitely in the plan, and perhaps a tour to play at most of the Panoramas for this year in various countries. I’m also building my own recording studio on Wrightson Road where I will be producing music - not just steelpan but Soca, Calypso, any genre I feel.”

photos provided by Ayana Garcia

   Ayana “YaNz” Garcia performs with Starlift Steel Orchestra during the orchestra’s 2018 Panorama Semi-final ‘On D Drag’ rehearsal

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