As one of the undoubted giants of Trinidad Carnival, there is no doubt that the passing of Wayne Berkeley from this earth on Thursday will be mourned by many in the masquerade fraternity in particular, but more generally by those who have made the propagation of this country's culture their life's work. The Carnival records would indicate the extent to which Mr Berkeley was a dominant force as a bandleader and a designer at a time when Trinidad Carnival was at its most creative-from the mid-seventies to the mid-nineties. From 1989 to 1994, Mr Berkeley was unbeatable, winning Band of the Year with Hero Myth, Nineteen Ninety, Swan Lake, Titanic, Strike Up the Band, and Mirage.
The other dominant designer and bandleader back in the days when Carnival was really king-and represented the creative expression of all that is good and bad in us-was Mr Berkeley's creative rival, Peter Minshall. While the debate over who was greater will continue to be a talking point among some of us, like the debate among cricket aficionados about Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, the fact is that both Mr Berkeley and Mr Minshall have made tremendous contributions to the development of Trinidad and Tobago and to the sense of self of the Trinidadian and Tobagonian. This country's ordinary mortals take pride in the achievements of the country's giants-people like Eric Williams, ANR Robinson, Brian Lara, Dwight Yorke, Jit Samaroo, Trevor McDonald, VS Naipaul, Derek Walcott-and are able to walk the world fortified by the knowledge that this land has created or nurtured many world greats.
Wayne Berkeley clearly stands among the pantheon of great Trinidadians. The failing and the tragedy of this country is that after two booms-the oil boom of the 1970s and the natural gas boom for much of the last decade-there is still no place, or space, where someone can go to see, touch, hear or experience the works of Wayne Berkeley, Peter Minshall or George Bailey. More 60 years after the full flowering of masquerade bands parading through the streets of Port-of-Spain and other parts of the country in costumery influenced by global and historical themes, events and trends, there is still no place, or space, where someone can go to appreciate the greatness of the creativity of our people. To a large extent, the works of Wayne Berkeley remain etched in the memories of those who played in his bands and the thousands who looked on in awe from the streets as his costumes went by.
If we are to honour the memory of Wayne Berkeley's huge contribution to this country, surely ensuring that there is a place and space that allows a full experience of past Carnivals would be the way to go. Related to the first failing, is the second: There is no structured, institutionalised means by which the achievements and the knowledge of a Carnival great like a Wayne Berkeley, a Peter Minshall, a Pat Bishop or a Boogsie Sharp can be disseminated beyond a small clique so that the genius that resides in them (and others, of course) can be shared with others. The Government or one of the country's universities should organise master classes where the living geniuses of the Carnival arts can interact with those coming up. This is one of the ways in which Carnival can resume its role as an annual expression of creativity rather than a tired regurgitation of previously copied works and motifs. Again, the country would honour the cherished memory of Wayne Berkeley by ensuring that his genius-and the genius of others-could be shared through the ages.