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On Thursday, November 9, at just 24 years, Ayana Shallima Garcia, the youngest in her class, Ayana graduated with her Master of Arts in Carnival Studies Degree. Definitely neither nerd or bookworm, Garcia is more aptly defined as an allrounder; a Jenny of all trades. She is also a crackshot pan musician who is also an avid photographer, producer, writer and composer.
Born one month before time on September 19, 1993, Ayana displayed her love for music and the culture of T&T as a toddler. The fact that her parents own a business next to Kitchener’s Revue tent on Wrightson Road exposed her to many calypsonians.
Said Allima Garcia, Ayana’s mother: “When Ayana was born I wasn’t sure how Saieed, her elder brother, would react having heard so many stories of siblings fighting. But Saieed lived up to his role as big brother, always protecting her and looking after her. In fact, he is the reason she started school at two-and-a-half years.”
Ayana’s love affair with the steelpan is one that transcends her relatively young age. From as early as the age of three, she was taught the rudiments of the steelpan by none other than her godfather, arranger and composer Robert Greenidge. She had to stand on a box to reach the pan but she persevered. This relationship played a significant role in her future career plans.
Ayana’s first school experience was at a kindergarten school in the East before moving to Trinity Junior School. Her mother reminisced: “I remember there were tears everyday from Ayana to go to school. When Saieed went off to secondary school she insisted in dropping him off to school first before she went to her school. Then, when he entered university he would have to go with their dad (Cleveland Garcia) to drop Ayana off to secondary school before dropping off at the university even though it was walking distance. Saieed is a part of the reason Ayana switched programmes and did music instead of Animation which she signed up for but it was at John D and he was moving to O’Meara.”
Whilst at Trinity Junior School, Ayana made arrangements with her computer lessons teacher to have her session early so that she could also attend music classes. After two months her music teacher, Ava Hutchinson-Agard (Aunty Ava) approached her mother for the outstanding music fees. Her secret was out; Ayana was doing two classes at the same time and excelling in both.
Having started school at three, Ayana wrote her SEA Exams at age ten passing for her first choice Bishop Anstey High School.
Having successfully completed her CSEC studies at the tender age of 15, Ayana entered the University of T&T (UTT) in 2009 to pursue the certificate in Pan and Music Literacy Programme. She being the youngest person to attend UTT; through tenacity and hard work she persevered, completing a two-year course in one year and emerging successful. Ayana enrolled in UTT’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree programme in Music and has had the pleasure of being tutored by Desmond Waithe, who taught her the art of playing classical music on the steelpan and improving her technique in many ways.
Ayana has represented UTT by performing at various functions. She has played for the President of UTT, the Prime Minister and the President of Nigeria, just to name a few. In addition to these performances, Ayana has performed for various events in her community through the Woodbrook Community Association and at a church in Chaguanas. She has played for bands such as Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Phase II Pan Groove and the stage side of PCS Nitrogen Silver Stars Steel Orchestra. Her love and dedication to the steelpan has led her to achieving much recognition from the UTT.
Ayana has also had the unique opportunity to play the Pan app on the iPad alongside two musical geniuses, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Ken “Professor” Philmore. She has also performed with her mentor Robert Greenidge at the opening ceremony for the Dimanche Gras. In 2015, Ayana graduated from the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and was employed by Louis and Daren Lee Sing at Triniscene.com where she currently holds the position Production Manager.
Triniscene.com is a 16-year-old digital media entertainment brand that is evolving into the country’s premier live online television News, Current Affairs, Features, Sport and Entertainment entity.
Ayana handles the coordination of photography, videography and social media and produces a series of short shows for the company. Her love of culture certainly came in handy at Triniscene.com and inspired her to further her studies.
In 2016, Ayana enrolled in the Master of Arts in Carnival Studies at the UTT’s Academy of Arts, Letters and Public Affairs led by Dr Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust). The programme consists of a wide range of cultural and historical studies with courses such as Panyard Studies, History of Calypso, Calypso Composition, Ethnomusicology, Caribbean Culture and Carnival and Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences to name a few.
Many who know Ayana to be an ace pan musician were caught by surprise when she wrote and performed a calypso entitled The Pet Shop for her final exam in Calypso Composition. The hook line of the song “They want to buy meh cat” tickled the fancy of all who heard it.
Ayana continued to excel in her courses and presented her final thesis supervised by Dr Kim Johnson and Desmond Waithe. Her topic, Steelband Management, focussed on Silver Stars Steel Orchestra which she defined as a family-run style of management.
At the ripe and wizened age of 24, the sky is the limit for Ayana. She said: “My goal in life is to contribute to culture, especially steelband; to take steelband in Trinidad to another level and influence young people to appreciate our national instrument more.
“I wants to impart my knowledge and use what I learned through my time in the media industry and steelpan fraternity to share our local culture worldwide.
“Not forgetting my love for performing, currently I am working on her first steelpan album. I plan to continue my educational journey by pursuing my PhD.”
Said mummy Allima: “Both my children are partners in crime indeed; making mischief together always; cooking at 2 or 3 am. Both Ayana’s dad and I are so proud of the both of them. They always express content and are still appreciative of us; the Garcia foursome.”
(Reporting by Peter Ray Blood – [email protected])