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Garcia holds Pan’s flag high

Published: 
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Carnival 2013
Odilia Garcia has a long, rich history in Panorama as a flagwoman and percussionist. Photo: Andy Hypolite

‘You have no band without a beautiful flagwoman.’ These lyrics opened the calypso Flag Woman which earned the late Lord Kitchener his tenth Road March title in 1976. The Grandmaster was paying tribute to the lithe, energetic women who wave flag for steelbands, and remain an integral part of steelband’s colourful lore and the Panorama competition. 

Like the flagwoman there are many other individuals who are in the background of carnival but whose input fuels our national festival; people like the calypso judge, sound engineer, and event planner. T&T Guardian is bringing these all-important folk out of the shadows and placing the spotlight on them for Carnival 2013.

 

 

Carnival flows through her veins as she has been participating in the annual festival since childhood. An accomplished percussionist, Odilia Garcia was easily recognised by pan fans as “the flagwoman” from Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove. 

 

Immortalised by the late Lord Kitchener in his 1976 Road March Flag Woman, the flagwoman has been an integral part of the steelband from its inception. However, the wider public knows precious little about these women who have led steelbands unto the Panorama stage since 1963, and on the streets long before that. 

 

Taking time out from her day job at Ahing’s in Woodbrook for the interview, Garcia said: “I grew up on the Avenue (Ariapita) and attended St Theresa’s schools, both primary and secondary. I got involved in the choir and started playing the guitar then. After two years I branched over to the drums.

 

“I still play the drums at Sunday morning mass and at Easter and Christmas time at the church. I have also been playing with the Marionettes Chorale for the past years at their July and December concerts, through Desmond Waithe’s introduction to the same.”

 

Despite her obvious affinity and love for pan, Garcia has never played the instrument. She said: “I have never attempted to play the pan as I have always liked the vibes in the engine room. Again, through Desmond Waithe, I played scratcher with Nutones from Arima. 

 

“I still remember those treks to Arima from Woodbrook to feel the arrangement.” 

 

For many years, Garcia also played drums, congas, timbales and jam blocks with Neal and Massy Trendsetters.

 

She continued: “In addition, I also played percussion instruments for the Chinese steelband, and with the National Secretaries Steelband, then based at the old Starlift panyard.” 

 

Garcia’s skills as a percussionist also took her on tour to Japan, playing drums and congas for the band Shebang.

 

While she’s well known in the pan world as a drummer, Garcia is equally renowned for her flag waving abilities. 

 

“It was Florence Watson who got me interested in waving flag for Phase II in the mid-nineties,” she said. 

 

“I have never regretted representing the culture of holding that banner, then waving the flag. 

 

“Being a flag waver means being in the panyard every night, listening intently to the arrangement; every stop, every soft passage, so your flag can flow with the song.

 

“Waving flag is about keeping and looking good in the eyes of the judges, and the North and Grand stands. 

 

“Although I have passed up on waving flag at Panorama for a while now, I do not regret doing so. It is such an uplifting experience, especially on final night. 

 

“After leaving the Phase, I went on to Laventille Serenaders on the (Laventille) hill with Florence and waved flag with them for about five years.

 

“I remember one final night, while we were performing downtown, I borrowed a bicycle from a man in the crowd and went round and round the band with the flag. To date Flo has the photo in her office.”

 

Describing herself as “Carnival baby,” Garcia said: “Mas and music have been flowing in my blood for a very long time, since my uncle had the first recording studio on Nelson Street in

 

Port-of-Spain, and the family also produced mas bands for years. 

 

“My cousin, Kay Christopher, was Queen of Carnival in 1967, and the family played mas with Lil and Edmund Hart for donkey years. So, I have played mas with Harts, up until I found the costumes getting too skimpy for my taste. 

 

“So, in recent years, on Carnival day, I have been liming in front my auto shop on the Avenue. Maybe next year, once I lose weight, I’ll do the mas-playing again.

 

“On Scott Bushe Street, number 32 to be precise, we started the Carnival Sunday street party with Trendsetters. We moved onto J’Ouvert under the name Rumco, with Nicholas Inniss, at the helm. We have had a launch every year for the past 20 years and we are now at Murray Street. 

 

“This year, things were too rushed so we are back to the drawing board for Carnival 2014.”

 

A student of T&T Carnival, Garcia said: “Everything in Carnival has evolved over the years—mas, pan etc. 

 

“Unfortunately, it seems that it’s now all about the money, and not for the love. This is so sad. There are just too many issues, too many problems every year in this festival. Nothing can be set right for a smooth flow.”

 

Garcia said that music is at the centre of her being. 

 

“I love all types of music, but the present trend of soca; with producing a rhythm, and about three four artistes singing, with little lyrics, can be good, but not good enough,” she said.

 

“I must give kudos to the artistes who provide new music every year. Credit must also been given to the arrangers. 

 

“I love all steelband and I do not envy the judges on final night of Panorama...how they score those exceptional arrangements. Leave it up to me, everybody is first on final night.

 

“Just as how all steelbands are my favorites, the same goes for the soca artistes, although some do not shine every year. If I had to chose, my list of favourites would be every long. 

 

“We need to be more disciplined in all aspects of the culture. If we can only focus on promoting ourselves by having all entities on board, with a oneness, working together as a unit (which may never happen), we should see an improvement some time in the near future. 

 

“There are too many different committees with the same goal.”

 

Reflecting on her career in Carnival Garcia said: “I would like to thank, first the Creator for life to do what I have done, and continue to do; also Des (Waithe), Flo (Watson), and others, for allowing me to contribute to our wonderful culture that is Carnival, and to the world of music.

 

“I will continue to play my drums, once I am healthy and okay.”

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