Fay-Ann Lyons: “Enjoy yourself and perform your heart out”

Soca star Fay-Ann Lyons tells Cedriann Martin how she balances family life and a Carnival career

Fay-Ann Lyons. Photograph courtesy Fay-Ann Lyons

I grew up without my dad [calypsonian SuperBlue] being there, because of music. I do not for one day get upset at him for that. Basically it all boils down to prioritising and learning from other people’s mistakes. One of the greatest lessons he ever taught me is that you have to do the important things first. My mother [calypsonian Lady Gypsy] was there but she was not there. When she went to the calypso tent in Port of Spain it was too late to come back down the road in south and she would have to spend the night with a friend before going to the tent again. I had to be able to stand up, as the oldest in the house.

Before, I could have left the country to do a show and stay over an extra two days. Now I have to get back by Saturday, Sunday or Monday morning to make sure my daughter gets to school. On a typical day I get my daughter ready for school, then I go to the gym for two hours. I come home, eat, cook, make sure my husband has something to eat. I pick my daughter up, play with her, colour, and run up and down the place. When she goes to sleep in the evening I go back to the gym again or go running up Chancellor Hill. Once I’m in the country I do two hours of aerobics every single day. I tend to record in the night. I’ve been like this for years.

After Miami Carnival, I head back to studio. Even if you have stuff written or started, you get your ball rolling by putting the finishing touches on the music. I write my own music through the year. For me the lyrics are the easiest thing. Sometimes you get a line – one line – and you have to decide if you want it to be part of the chorus or the verse.

I sing what I feel, in terms of what I can see people doing in my head, or what message I want to deliver. I might also have stuff from years before that I didn’t use. Carnival is like fashion. You have to be on top of what is in. You just get a vibe from being around people, especially the ones that travel to all the major carnivals.

During the season we try to rehearse as often as possible. It puts a strain on your voice and you have to be careful. You get hoarse and people give you their colds when you shake their hand or hug them up. The best trick I’ve found is to go to sleep, but you don’t get back all the rest. I might sleep from five until nine. Then you have to get up for interviews, or photoshoots, or school tours, or a sound check, or a band meeting, or to pick up an outfit.

It’s easy for me to balance things during the season because of how I structure my life outside of my job. You will not find me liming, drinking, smoking and partying every Friday night. I am a homebody. Before Carnival starts, I go to the meat place on Wrightson Road to buy all the meat I want. I cut up everybody and season everybody with my own seasoning, bag it and label them. I have a freezer I stock up coming down to Carnival. So when we coming home after a performance we don’t stop to buy food unless that’s what they want. Everybody goes upstairs to bathe and change and by that time I put a pot on the fire and make a pelau or a pie. Everything is freshly cooked. Bunji Garlin don’t have to worry about KFC three o’clock in the morning.

In terms of wardrobe, it’s all me, basically. In some instances I incorporate a designer, but I like to dress to fit my personality. A lot of people dress trying to impress a crowd or look like the sexiest thing alive. What is most important is that you enjoy yourself and perform your heart out. One time I wore an outfit onstage and it was the most uncomfortable experience. It looked cute but it was too tight. I will not ever do that again: health and safety before fashion.

The kicksiest thing is to see me buy shoes in Bloomingdales. I dance around in front the mirror. People probably think, “Why is she buying tall heels and dancing? What is up with this chick? Is she a stripper?” But once I can do that, I know I will be comfortable. Sometimes I perform barefooted too. That’s because, to be frank, sometimes the stages are very crappy. When I am seeing plyboard looking as though if I make one step with that heel I am going to break my ankle, I say, let me take my shoes off.

I don’t look over performances. When I do something I move on. I’m not into analysing whether I should have put my hand so or stood so. If you look at our band performances, there are no choreographed dancers at any point in time. If a mistake happens, you just take that mistake and absorb it into the performance.

When it comes to competition I have no rituals whatsoever. Bunji doesn’t know what I am doing and I don’t know what he is doing at all. It makes for more intriguing competition. I find he is such a strong competitor and going up against him is a challenge. I Iove when I beat him.

Immediately after Carnival we sometimes stay home to relax. Sometimes we do full shows in Toronto and New York. I don’t think you ever really get a chance to rest. We’ve never been on a honeymoon and now, with a baby, it is even more difficult. Maybe we’ll honeymoon when she is in college.