Rhonda Allick exemplifies raw talent as a flagraising woman and demonstrates her skills in a way that certifies it as true art in motion. Last year, she won the first ever flagraising competition which was held in San Fernando.
Having been a flagraising woman for the past four years, she has already commanded the respect, support and adoration of fellow bandmates and pan industry figures across the nation. She began her stint with the Hilax/Pandemonium steelband and is now with the Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars. She fulfils her duties at the annual Borough Day celebrations in Point Fortin, South Trinidad as well.
"It really wasn't a dream of mine. You see, I started playing mas at four years old but I never liked a crowd. I don't like being touched by people on Carnival day." Chuckling softly, she continued, "I'm sorry to sound that way eh but it's true. Sorry to say it like that."
Her baptism into the art came by surprise. "One Carnival Saturday, Mr Superville from All Stars approached me and said that he had something for me. I said 'you have something for me?' He said that a friend had told him that I was really good so he wanted me to wave the flag for his band." Luck struck again when an official from the Fire Services outfit approached her to be their flagwoman.
We have come to know flagwomen for somewhat outrageous antics and behaviour while their band is performing. There are some though who put a different, somewhat classy spin to the act, while still making it worthy of a performance appraisal.
"I wine. When the music starts to play, the waist automatically knows. I can't hear music and keep still. I have to move. Even if I'm in a taxi or wherever; even if I have to move my head, I must move. I just love the music. I don't need any weed or alcohol; once I hear the music…" A mother of three boys, 24, 23 and 17 years old, she said with a serious tone, "When you have big children, you have to know what you're doing."
Her children love the art form and her 17-year-old son is a pannist with the frontline of the All Stars team as well as the City Sun Valley sttelband.. "So I'm also at the panyard every night to support him. The mothers of the young pannists, we help with getting them things to eat or drink or pack their bags for a competition."
When Allick walks into a room, she appears to be a serious, no-nonsense, reserved person. When talking among her peers, she is a livewire but when she speaks of her craft, it is apparent that she takes it seriously. "You have to guess the timing, feel the rhythm. The thing is, there were times when I didn't hear the music until close to competition time or the day in question but I have a rhythm, I feel it."
She insists that it's something in which one can incorporate their own flavour. "I might gesture, stop the flag…keep the flag going when they might stop…put the flag up and pose… I do my thing. Whatever I do, I don't let the flag touch the ground because that is a disrespect to the band. Never let the flag touch the ground."
Laughing softly, she joked, "It's a good thing that the players know their notes so well because they're always watching me." She laughed at her comment. "The players used to say, "I didn't know you so good."
"People would call me after and say 'Ah see yuh starring on TV!' or sometimes people would see me on the streets and call out 'Flagwoman!' It's nice when I see myself in a magazine too. People would tell me that I was the best they saw so far on some days."
Allick is so talented at what does that she has been approached to teach other women in her hometown of Belmont. "I wish they could open a school to teach what I do. It's not just about waving a flag from left to right. I wish we could teach people how to do it right. It's not just about wining to the ground."
Her days are long during the season but she is passive about it because of her love for it. She heads to the panyard every evening for their rehearsals around 8.30 p.m. and doesn't get home until maybe 3 a.m. the following morning. Then she rises with the sun. As I reacted to that schedule, she said, "Mm-hmm! But I make sure and get up in time to wake up my son for school." She picks up her main job at 8 a.m. and that workday ends around 5 p.m.
"I always tell my sons that whatever they do, do it to the best of their ability."
Allick is set to continue displaying her skills and while many may be tapping their feet to the sweet sound of pan music, she will be tapping into her informally trained skills as the best flagraising woman in Trinidad.