I spent last weekend at the Notting Hill Carnival and had an amazing time.
Notting Hill Carnival has taken place on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday since 1965. It was originally led by members of the West Indian migrant community in London, in particular those from Trinidad and Tobago (Trinis).
The first Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1959 in St. Pancras Town Hall as a response the racial tensions at the time, for example the Notting Hill Race Riots, which lasted a for a week during August and September 1959. This first Carnival was organised by Claudia Jones (who is widely recognised as being the ‘Mother of Carnival’), a Trinidadian journalist and political activist, and wasconsidered a huge success. In 1966 the first outdoors carnival was held, inspired by the London Free School and the hippie movement. The aim of this event was to promote cultural unity, and was spearheaded by Rhaune Laslett, a community activist. What started as a street party for local children turned into a carnival procession when Russell Henderson’s steel pan band went on a walkabout around local streets.
This was the first time that steelband music was played on any streets in England and it united the minority population, who felt alienated from community celebration. It laid the foundations for the Notting Hill Carnival procession that we see today, which starts at Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance and winds its way through the streets of Notting Hill on floats decked out with steel pan bands, followed by costumed dancers.
By 1976 the Notting Hill Carnival had developed its distinctive Caribbean feel, and was attracting upwards of 150,000 people. There were, however, still tensions between the police and the predominantly young Caribbean Carnival-goers, which resulted in riots. This was portrayed in a very one-sided way in the press, leading to fears that the Carnival could be cancelled. Thankfully however this didn’t happen, and since then it has gone from strength to strength, blossoming into the celebration of cultural diversity that it is today. In recent years it has attracted up to 50,000 performers, 38 sound systems and 2.5 million people over the weekend, making it the second largest street carnival in the world after Rio. In the years since its inception, Notting Hill Carnival has not forgotten its roots and has maintained its distinctive West Indian feel, helped in part by the establishment of over 40 static sound systems, playing everything from soca to dub, reggae, jazz, and calypso. From humble beginnings, Carnival has grown and grown: it is truly a spectacle not to be missed.