If you blinked too hard, you really could miss it. The building that houses the mas camp/production house for Strictly Alternative Mas (S.A.M) is pretty non-descript. The tiny car park could barely contain the two vehicles when we pulled up. The room where production was taking place was cramped, housing work tables, sewing machines, and prototype costumes. Add to the fact that the building is home to two separate businesses, and you get a mild sense of claustrophobia from the surroundings. However, history is full of stories of great things being born out of less than ideal conditions. You also get the sense that Darren Cheewah would thrive if you stranded him on a remote island, with nothing more than a pack of cigarettes and a notebook. The painter/graffiti artist/art director/tattoo artist/graphic designer is not a new hand at the mas game. His name is well known in the artistic and advertising circles in Trinidad, and commands a respect which is normally reserved for men who have been on the scene for significantly longer periods of time. He has earned those “stripes”, however. And “X” may just be his most ambitious undertaking to date. Growing up in Belmont, where the sound of pan beating and music trucks passing is the norm at Carnival time, Cheewah cut his proverbial teeth helping to bend wire for frames in Peter Minshall’s mas camp. There he was surrounded by masters of the trade, and cultivated a love for the art and pageantry that is inherent in traditional mas, and especially fancy sailor mas. Holding Wayne Berkley and Harold Saldenah as his inspirations, he is determined to take the well known “ole time sumting” and give it a “2011 styling”. Equally important, is a sense inclusiveness in his ideas. In an age, where mas can be discriminatory in several ways (price, costume design, ease of access), Cheewah decided to take his designs and make the finished product as accessible as possible to all and sundry. One result of this is the creation of a section which caters to women who wear sizes greater than a 4 (the unspoken, “industry standard”, upper limit for women’s sizes amongst several bands). The beginnings of “X” were no less humble than Cheewah’s introduction into the mas Carnival arena. Meeting with Peter Samuel (himself a veteran mas-man and associate of Peter Minshall), after a decision to leave Woi Mas, Peter recommended branching out completely on to their own, and starting from scratch. The idea presented a different challenge to Cheewah. While he had designed sections for bands in the past (notably Barbarosa and Island People), the idea of being the SOLE designer for a new band piqued his interest in a different way. Upon being told that they should aim for ten sections, the overall concept for the band started coming together, from the idea of X being the Roman numeral for ten, to Malcolm X, to the X-Games, and even Xbox. Drawing on inspiration from the different disciplines he experiments with, the possibilities were practically limitless. And with that, the work of developing ten sections, ten motifs, began. Now before you get the wrong idea, S.A.M is not a one man show. While Cheewah’s designs are definitely the driving force behind the collective, the group on the whole is a collection of veterans who are not afraid to challenge their designer. Producers Robbie Fredericks and Delano Thompson provide valuable insight on the viability of the designs. When commenting on the role of the two men in the creative process, Cheewah had this to say: When Trinidad Carnivals met with Darren, production had already begun on the sections for X. They are: ConviX, SmallX, PhoeniX, PolytriX, Match&MiX, UniseX, GenX, XXX, DominatriX, and PlastiX. There is still a lot of time between now and February, and a lot of space between the cramped confines of the production room and the Savannah stage. But that will be ok. Because with that pack of cigarettes and that notebook in hand, you get the sense that there are no obstacles that can limit the reaches of Darren Cheewah's mind.