No. 3 Notting Hill Carnival

No. 3 Notting Hill Carnival

Growing up in West London, Notting Hill Carnival (also known as ‘Carni’) meant everything to me. I even shed a tear when talking about it the other day! For a lot of people, Carni is just one big party to drink, smoke, and catch whines but to me, it's a celebration of triumph, family, and the beautiful influence of Caribbean culture in the UK. Coming from a Jamaican family we value 3 things - rum, music, and food - and Carni is the perfect amalgamation of the 3. 

Why do I say it's a celebration of triumph? 

The Caribbean community was invited to Britain in the 1950s to rebuild the country after World War 2. Now termed the ‘Windrush generation’, they sought jobs and a ‘better life’, but were instead subjected to racial animosity and economic hardship. Following the Notting Hill Riots in 1958, the community sought ways to overcome racial tensions, and in 1966 the first outdoor festival took place in the streets of Notting Hill - it’s often said that without the riots Notting Hill Carnival wouldn’t exist today. While this didn’t irradiate racism in London, it showcased the Caribbean community’s resilience in the face of oppression and discrimination. In Carni we celebrate the perseverance of our people for, if it wasn’t for them, most of us wouldn’t be here today. 

Photo: Horace Ové @ Sound System London 1980

As the Caribbean community, and the popularity of certain aspects of Caribbean culture, grew in the UK, it became something bigger - and it’s not the same Carnival that was held in 1966 anymore. Nowadays it’s a massive tourist event, with people travelling from all corners of the world to experience it. But to those who understand its significance, this time of year holds a lot of value.

What to expect?

Carnival always kicks off with J’Ouvert, a Trinidadian tradition with paint and powder throwing. This is also when the Mas Bands begin their route - my favourite part of Carni. Short for ‘Masquerade’ Bands, this tradition dates back to the 19th century when slaves would mimic their masters and the clothes they would wear at balls, a tradition that was continued after emancipation. These consist of large groups parading down the carnival route, adorned in vibrant costumes influenced by the Caribbean (and sometimes Brazilian) diaspora. The outfits and floats are prepared months in advance, with the hope of winning first place in a competition.

Photo: David Trett 

With culturally relevant brands like Wray and Nephew, Havana Club, and Magnum (and even clothing companies such as Maharishi) sponsoring sound systems and hosting events around the season, it's no wonder 2 million people migrate to West London for this yearly phenomenon.  

While Carni initially started as calypso and soca music, it now encompasses so much more. This year we’re in for a treat with the music along the carnival route, varying from reggae, and dub, to samba and hip-hop. 

Sound systems are fundamental to the carnival atmosphere. These were introduced to Notting Hill Carnival in 1973, and now there are over 30 static sound systems around the area on the day. Systems by 4Play and Sir Lloyd, are among my personal favourites, but be prepared to stop and dance to a whole range of musical genres on the day. 

Photo: David Trett

There are also 4 large stages around Notting Hill on Monday. In the past, legends Jay Z and Busta Rhymes graced the live stage, and more recently artists like Stormzy, Craig David, and Giggs. This year you can expect sets from Shy FX, in collaboration with Maharishi, and even a performance from Shaggy. 

If Carni is something you find intimidating still, I recommend going to the steel pan competition which takes place the Saturday before. There, you get a snippet of the atmosphere, but with fewer people and a lower chance of getting lost. 

Notting Hill Carnival has also collaborated with Trippin World this year, providing a map showcasing all the sound systems, stages, safe spaces, and more. Find out more at Trippin.

Some rules for any newbies: 

- Walk around! There are lots of great sound systems, try to explore them all.

- You must try the food. There are 250 food vendors there, mostly with authentic Caribbean cuisine, so you’d be a fool not to try some.

- If you get separated from your friends, don’t expect to see them until the end. With a crowd of up to 2 million people there on the day, you will have no mobile signal and no way of finding them.

- Try to bring your own drinks - the bossman will rip you off. Ideally a Red Stripe, Magnum, or some pre-mixed rum and coke.

- Be prepared to pay £2+ to use someone's toilet. It’s weird, I know, but necessary.

- Bring cash

- Enjoy!

Noted by Maya Herron


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