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Alexis family making mas together

Published: 
Sunday, January 21, 2018
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Mas designer Michael (Chickee) Alexis teaching his grandson, two-year-old Aadon to glue a foam piece at his mas camp in Mt Lambert. Photo by:Charles Kong Soo

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CHARLES KONG SOO

From October 2017 mas players and residents of Mt Lambert could see the shape and colours of Carnival 2018 costumes to come when they pass near to Michael (Chickee) Alexis' home.

Hanging from the ceiling of his mas camp are sections of beautiful sequined and feathered costumes from six different bands: Tribe, Lost Tribe, Bliss, Rosalind Gabriel, Fantasy and even a band from Tobago.

The lights are on up to 1 am and sometimes beyond as Alexis and his family—wife, Deborah, daughters Kathyann Downes and Ornella Alexis—assemble the costumes as it is crunch time. They get a little rest and resume the hectic schedule at 7:30 am.

Even Alexis' grandson, two-year-old Aadon, the fourth generation, is involved in the mas making at an early age literally growing up in the mas camp.

The long worktable station is tall enough for Aadon to run under and relay small items such as glue sticks, appliques and material to his mother, Ornella and family, and his grandfather is already teaching him to glue material.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Alexis said "We go like this right through the season. When Carnival is finished in T&T, I'm going up the islands to St Vincent and Barbados to make mas there and design mas in other Caribbean islands like Grenada, St Lucia and St Maarten.

"The pace is more intense in the islands, you literally live in the mas camp fighting against time, with no where to knock about and see the islands, you get up and start making costumes until 1-2 am the next morning.

"Over the years, I've built up a good reputation and quality of work and it's very rare for a band leader to come to check my work."

The 61-year-old designer has 24 years in the mas making business. Alexis said it was his mother, Eileen, who worked for mas legend Wayne Berkeley and who introduced him to the legendary mas maker where he learned his mas making craft.

He said his wife was with him from the beginning, while his daughters have been making costumes since they were in school. His brother, Randy was also a mas maker.

Downes, Alexis' first-born, said she remembered the heyday of big band Poison, after threading thousands of beads for three weeks that made their hands numb, the family created a device to pull beads in a faster manner.

'Too many “YouTube” designers in modern mas'

Alexis said he especially enjoyed designing children's mas costumes—for individuals, junior kings and queens. Thirteen-year-old Jade Edwards' junior queen costume was designed by Alexis and is being kept under wraps until the day of competition. Masquerader Teineicia Williams brings her children Aiden, four, who has been playing mas since he was one and seven-month-old baby Jaiden Roach along to the mas camp for Aiden's individual costume fitting.

Alexis said most mas producers like him came from the old school of mas and had to have multiple skill sets such as metal work and wire bending.

He said in the old days they had to be all rounders and do everything in the mas camp including artwork and painting.

Alexis said everybody was calling themselves a Carnival designer now, they just go on the Internet or YouTube, copy Brazil's mas, shows and even experimenting with Halloween and cosplay influences.

He said a lot of money was spent on marketing in modern mas, the emphasis was not on production like in the in the old days and the profit margin from Chinese manufactured costumes more than made up for the shipping cost.

Alexis said if bands did not participate in the NCC's (National Carnival Commission) judging but do their own thing on the road, they should be slapped with a large fine of $500,000.

He lamented that with the emergence of fun and drinks bands, Carnival was becoming more like J'Ouvert and a party in the road.

Alexis, who loves designing, is sought after even out of the Carnival season. The red banners that decorated Trincity Mall for Christmas were his handiwork. For Alexis, there is no retirement, it's his job and he loves it. He intends to continue until his eyesight diminishes, he is physically unable to continue and hopes to see his grandson and his progeny continue his work.

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