Soca imbues the listener with a sense of freedom and puckish abandon, but for those that make a living off it, the genre’s never-ending fête can sometimes be creatively limiting. The annual carnival in Trinidad, and the tour of international carnivals that follow through the rest of the year, require a steady stream of reliable hits from soca artists: formulaic songs that are full of countdowns to jump, crescendos to let your waistline loose, and sing-songy choruses perfect for chanting whilst drunk on rum. Destra Garcia is one in a handful of Trinidadian soca singers who have successfully claimed their spot in an industry dominated by ben, but the constraints of the genre have grown frustrating. With its emphasis on bellowing calls to wave and wine, soca has left little room for her to fully utilize her vocal capabilities. “You expect Destra to sing something sexy or loose or lewd,” said Garcia. “We need that in the Carnival, but I’m just saying, in the years that I’ve been singing, I haven’t gotten the chance to really explore my real God-given gifts.”
Garcia was raised in Laventille, a notoriously rough suburb set in the hills to the east of Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain. She began singing and recording calypso, gospel, and R&B at the age of 10, following the musical path first blazed by her grandfather and father, both accomplished musicians. Despite a conservative, religious upbringing, Garcia found her calling in soca music, the faster pace, sexually suggestive kid sister of calypso. She earned her title as the “Queen of Bacchanal” off the strength of hits that began with 2001’s “Tremble It,” “Whe Yuh Want” (2003), and “It’s Carnival,” a ubiquitous duet with Machel Montano, also from 2003, that holds a place in every soca DJ’s set to this day. Not to forget 2015’s “Lucy,” a saucy, autobiographical song that recounts Garcia’s metamorphosis from a mousy schoolgirl to a stage-commanding soca diva: I grew up as ah real good girl, always home doh go nowhere/ Ah soon as I was introduce tuh Carnival, deh say I loose/ All down on de ground, wukkin’, wukkin’ up meh bottom/ And it draggin’, draggin’ all over town and deh say I Lucy.”
Garcia’s special brand of slackness has resonated the world over. She tours globally year round, connecting with her international fan base via trilingual capabilities — she speaks English, Spanish, and French — and the universal language of wining. But Garcia is hoping that the new pop sound that she’s exploring on her forthcoming album,Queen, will translate. The record finds Garcia flexing creative muscles that hardcore Destra fans probably never knew existed. The first single, “In Love With The Rhythm,” is a synthy ode to popping bottles in the club. Later, over a lilting one-drop, Garcia tries her hand at reggae-lite with “Body Bag,” the lyrics a classic tale of a scorned lover’s revenge. “Satellite” is a straight-up EDM banger that’s full of shimmery vocals and intense bass drops. As the beat builds, Garcia sings, Everything’s alright/ I’m changing over and over like an alchemizing incantation.