Stephen Derek: the globetrotter

Stephen Derek: An apprentice of the great George Bailey, Derek has taken Trinidad Carnival around the world

  • Stephen Derek at work in his mas camp. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Stephen Derek in the 1990s . Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

Stephen Derek, born 1952

Few of today’s bandleaders can claim to have mastered all the traditional costume-design skills that thrived in Carnival’s post-war era. Generic bikini costumes sprinkled with beads and sequins don’t call for wire-bending, papier mâché moulding, cane work or carving. The complete masman has become a rare figure; even more rare are designers who learned their craft in the mas camp of a legend.

Stephen Derek was born in 1952 on Woodbrook’s Buller Street, not far from George Bailey’s headquarters. For a boy with a passion for the mas, there was no better place in the world to be. He was just 18 when his mentor died in 1970, but Derek was a keen apprentice, taking in all that he could. “I learned from the masters,” he says. And when he finally had the chance to design his own band, D’ Midas Touch, in 1978, spectators who remembered Bailey’s masquerade noted how deeply Derek’s work was influenced by the late Sir George’s style.

Alongside men like Cito Velasquez and Albert Bailey, Derek is one of the few remaining bridges to that extraordinary time. Some have criticised him for not stepping out of Bailey’s long shadow. But Derek has always seen his work as a continuation of an artistic tradition which could easily be lost; every year his costumes provide in living colour a glimpse of the glory that was Carnival in the 1960s.

Even more crucially, Derek has taken the art and the spirit of Trinidad Carnival far beyond the island’s shores. Other bandleaders have produced presentations for carnivals and festivals abroad, but none as assiduously as Derek. Starting in 1990, when he designed a band called Exotic Dancers for the Brooklyn and Boston carnivals (it won band of the year in both cities), Derek has become a year-round masman, moving from one carnival to the next, showcasing his work around the Caribbean and North America. His company, D’ Midas International, has a base in every North American city with a significant Caribbean presence, from Miami to Oakland; Derek may even be better known in some of these communities than he is back at home. He created costumes for the 1999 Miss Universe Pageant, held in Trinidad, and his designs have appeared in at least one Hollywood movie. It’s all good business for D’ Midas, which has embraced the challenge with true entrepreneurial spirit, but for Derek these carnivals in New York and Toronto, Houston and Atlanta are above all an opportunity to give the world a hint of what Trinidad Carnival looks and feels like. And it’s reassuring to know that the crafts and techniques Derek absorbed from George Bailey are now giving joy to people all over the world.

More in our Trinidad Carnival Artists of the Streets series

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