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​It’s More Special for One O’ We

Photos courtesy Spex Phototgraphy

My name is Destra and no one has been looking forward to Carnival 2023 as much as me.

I’ve been looking forward to this Carnival so much because this year is 20 years since my first album dropped in 2003, 20 years of the iconic song It’s Carnival. Last year we had A Taste of Carnival, which was interesting. And a lot of people enjoyed it and were happy for the relief. But this is the first time since the lockdown we are doing Carnival in a natural way, going to parties and cooler fetes, interacting with people. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s the Mother of All Carnivals but it’s clearly a special one.

I really am enjoying myself this year. We (Destra and Machel Montano) weren’t carded to be at Fete with the Saints (St Mary’s College Carnival fundraiser). Machel didn’t want to perform before his show. But we felt the Saints crowd was a mixture of all our fans and we felt our new 2023 song, Shake the Place, would have been a nice gift to the people, to show them what they could look forward to at Machel 40 on Carnival Friday.
I do love performing as much today as when I started because I never stopped. Even when Trinidad wasn’t seeing me as often, I was always performing overseas. So, for me, 20 year has gone by really, really fast. I was, like, what? It’s Carnival is 20 years old? Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess.
I appreciate BC Pires saying I’m a very special singer. I get that feeling of being adored by the fans – not so much all the time, in the industry – but, for the most part, I’ve racked up a lot of respect in the 20 years, in terms of people saying I’m a great singer or entertainer. One or two times you’re going to find one or two people saying the off, negative thing. But you’re always going to have people trying to distract you from being focussed. You wouldn’t be doing a great job if you didn’t have haters (although I don’t like that word).

Initially, harsh personal and maybe undeserved criticism used to bother me a lot. When you read assumptions made about you that you know are not true, and you know these people don’t know you, it could affect you. I learned to stop reading the “comments” sections. People can say whatever they want, so I can’t fault anyone for having their opinion of me based on what they perceive a situation or outcome to be. I try to stay true to myself, pray a lot and rely on my family to keep me grounded. I’m surrounded by people that are real, people who tell me, “You shouldn’t have said this or worn that!” Their criticism is coming from a place of love. If social media is being mean to me, I go back to my foundation. As long as they feel the thing is blown out of proportion, I’m good.

Since my entire family is from Laventille, I guess most of my foundation is from Laventille.

Now that I’m in a position to give my daughter the kind of life I did not have, before rewarding her with something she wants, I teach her the values I learned growing up: you have to work hard, nothing in life comes easy. At school, her friends all know I’m a strict parent, a mean mummy (but not in a bad way). It’s really hard for her to get me to say yes to stuff. I ask her, “What you got in your last test?” I keep markers. Because of that, she’s on her best behaviour.
I don’t ever take away my daughter’s phone – because she NEVER has her smartphone during the school term in the first place! When she started secondary school, I got her one of those “me too” phones because she had to leave her iPhone at home! Use your computer to do schoolwork. But no social media, Googling or YouTubing! As long as you bring home good grades, you can have all your devices back for Christmas, Easter or summer vacation. And as much TV as you want! But, during term, no devices at all. Me too phone and that’s it!

My faith is important to me but I question a lot. I do believe in Jesus Christ, maybe because I grew up in church. Yes, there has always been sadness in the world, from the very beginning. But, in my own times of trouble, I have found comfort in believing. When I’m in a bind and I put my trust in God, I see things manifested in front of my eyes. I tend to not try to overanalyse it.
BC Pires suggests it’s hard to believe a caring, powerful god would refuse to intervene in human suffering. But, if God intervened in all our lives at every moment we did something wrong, it would have no humans. Because we are all “sinners.” If God were to intervene in our own lives, I don’t think we’d like every intervention either. It goes both ways.
David Rudder has been a hero of Laventille my entire life. Everyone in my household was fascinated by him. Hearing him singing The Hammer, my uncles, pannists with Despers, and I remember, as a child growing up, experiencing the funeral of Rudolph Charles David describes in that song. So it was a very special song to put on my Laventille album, where I put so much of myself in the songs.To do that iconic song over, with the iconic songwriter, as a grownup, with David as one of my colleagues, was something amazing for me to achieve.

I’ve come close but I’ve never got the coveted Road March and Soca Monarch titles. Iwer George told me, “You’re never a king or queen in your own town, but you’ll get the love outside.” He was right. I’m not saying BC Pires is wrong in saying I may not have got the recognition I deserve or that the love made up for it. But I’ve had so many years to get accustomed… like an abused female who gets accustomed to bad treatment. They start thinking it’s normal! But I also feel that, whatever’s for you, is for you. So I take comfort in thinking that, if those titles or any other accolade were meant to be mine, I would have them. But who knows? Maybe some day.

The rumour that this would be my last Carnival is just not true. What the rumour is supposed to say is that this will be my last soca album for a while, and only because I want to focus on producing a Christmas album, an international album, a steel band album and a Gospel album. It takes so much out of you to create an entire album. I did not say I was never going to sing another soca song. I’m just not going to do another soca album until I’ve achieved those album milestones I want to achieve.

I got a little taste of what a Christmas album could be like with Brian MacFarlane and his Christmas Joy show this year. I interacted with so many professional singers and it was so humbling. I always thought I could real sing, boy! But when you meet other people just as gifted as yourself… And see what they’re doing… You wonder, “Have I sold myself short?” Not that I’m taking anything away from soca music, but there’s so much more that I want to do as well. There began the planting of the seed in my heart that I really needed to explore other genres.

I don’t know why, when I said, “This is my last soca album,” people heard, “This is my last Carnival!”

The state of the country? I grew up in an area where there was a lot of crime so it’s not that I’m normalised to certain things. I could acknowledge that things have gotten worse. I’m not aligned politically to any party or government. I will never give a politically charged comment or response.

Shake the Place, the song Machel and I did this year, was supposed to be an anniversary present to all those people who took the time to acknowledge that It’s Carnival is 20 years old when Machel and I both forgot! When I reminded him, he said, “Oh shoot! I’m celebrating 40 years in soca but also 20 years of the most iconic soca song!” And I said, “Yeah, what we gonna do about that? Remix the song?” And he said, “No you can’t touch a masterpiece! We’ll do something new.” And people are saying it could be a contender for Road March. But I’m not going to say such things. ‘Cause, 20 years ago, I said and hoped for that!

People often say to me, “Destra, you never win Road March or Soca Monarch but people say you are the “Queen of this” or “Queen of that”. I say I am the Queen of Bacchanal and I come to turn up the place. I see myself as red, white and black.

A Trini is a very happy person that can turn pressure, pain and sadness into joy and festivity. And I’m not talking about Carnival alone. No matter what problems they’re having, a Trini can still say, “Every day is a holiday!” We have all these things happening – and people will still find time to go to every fete! A Trini will always find some sort of release.

Trinidad and Tobago for me is pride. Flying the flag high everywhere I go, that’s what I feel. When I go on the stage, no matter where I am, and say, “Anybody from Trinidad?” And people put up the red, white and black flags, I feel pride.