25 August 2007

Notting Hill carnival

Now that Grenada, Antigua Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad carnivals are out of the way London It's WE TIME.

In the beginning....

Claudia Jones the mother of Notting hill carnival

Perhaps this is the clue to Claudia Jones's role in the evolution of Carnival. Deported from America in the mid 1950's Claudia was sent to Britain, rather than to her native Trinidad where she had lived the first 8 years of her life. Her non stop advocacy for Human rights, her prominence in a range of organisations that challenged inequality in the status quo (and particularly her membership of the Communist Party) made her 'a live and present danger' to the American state.   After a year's imprisonment she was deported to England, the Mother Country of the colonized West Indian people.

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Along with activists such as Amy Ashwood-Garvey (the wife of Marcus), Jones was central in defending London's black community. Understanding the unifying power of Carnival, she suggested London needed a similar festival.

The first indoor Carnival, held at the St Pancreas Town Hall in January 1959, was a masterstroke of Claudia's genius. Always aware of the power of Art and Culture to influence change, Claudia sought to reverse the disesteem, loneliness and alienation of Black people in Britain, people like herself who time and circumstance had washed up on foreign shores, far from their roots and origins. It was a response to the depressing state of race relations at the time; the UK's first widespread racial attacks (the Notting Hill race riots) had occurred the previous year.

In Notting Hill, the violence was especially vicious. A young West Indian carpenter named Kelso Cochrane was murdered there by six white youths.

Notting Hill Riot Special

ITN News, 5 September, 1958

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In her childhood in Trinidad she had seen the power of Carnival to knit the many strands of a hugely diverse society in mass celebration. Here in England Carnival could become a double edged sword, redeeming the pride of Black immigrants, while extending the hand of friendship to a 'stiff necked people', uneducated and misinformed about the culture of the darker races. As in its Caribbean roots, Carnival would embrace protest within Celebration, and replace conflict with understanding. It would express liberty and equality through its rituals of masquerade. Hers was a deeply humanising mission.

Rhaune Laslett. Laslett, who lived in Notting Hill, knew nothing of Jones or the carnivals when she spoke to the local police about organising a carnival early in 1965. With more of an English fete in mind, she invited the various ethnic groups of what was then the poor area of Notting Hill - Ukranians, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish, Caribbeans and Africans - to contribute to a week-long event that would culminate with an August bank holiday parade. Her motivation was "to prove that from our ghetto there was a wealth of culture waiting to express itself, that we weren't rubbish people".

Steel band player Russ Henderson was among those roped in. Laslett's partner, Jim O'Brien, knew him from the Colherne pub in Earl's Court - a favoured West Indian hang-out - and Henderson had played at the first event in St Pancras organised by Jones. At the Notting Hill event, he was playing alongside a donkey cart and a clown, and he felt things were getting flat. "I said, 'We got to do something to make this thing come alive.' " Henderson, , decided to walk his steel band to the top of the street and back.  "People would ask, 'How far are you going?' and we'd say, 'Just back to Acklam Road' and they would come a little way with their shopping, then peel off and someone else would join in. There was no route, really - if you saw a bus coming, you just went another way."

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By 1976 Notting hill carnival had changed . By that stage it had become a Caribbean event - the by-product of Jones's racial militancy and Laslett's community activism - complete with bands and costumes.

Black young people made their first massive and significant appearance at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1975, when for young people reggae was the idiom of cultural and social expression.

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The Carnival organisers sought to accommodate this by installing sound systems playing reggae along the route of the procession as well as under the A40 fly-over. This cultural phenomenon became the heartbeat of carnival. According to police figures, carnival was attracting 150,000 people. It was also the first time most remember an imposing police presence.

In the following year of 1976, the riot took most people by surprise. "I just remember seeing these bottles flying," says Michael La Rose, head of the Association for a People's Carnival, which aims to protect and promote carnival's community roots; he describes it as like watching a relentless parade of salmon leaping upstream. The police were ill-equipped and ill-prepared. Defending themselves with dustbin lids and milk crates, they were also outmanoeuvred. "That whole experience made the police very sore," one policeman says. "They had taken a beating and were determined that it would not happen again, so when the next one came about, there was some desire for revenge."

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From then on, thanks largely to the press, carnival moved from being a story about culture to one about crime and race. For years after, carnival stories would come with a picture of policemen either in hospital after being attacked or in an awkward embrace with a black, female reveller in full costume. Calls were made for the notting hill carnival to be banned.

As lord kitchener sang "The road made to walk on Carnival Day " and so we did. Notting hill carnival has become the biggest street party in Europe attracting over a 1,000 000 people the 3 days.


Carnival tradition is based on these five elements. Together they give us the sounds and spectacular visuals that complete any carnival experience.

 The 'Five Disciplines of Carnival' are:


Mas Bands (Mas is short for Masquerade) or Costume Bands is one of the five diciplines of Carnival. The competition for best Mas on the Road is hotly contested. On Carnival Monday the bands compete along the route and hope to pick up points as they pass the judgeing point.

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Notting Hill Carnival is the largest event showcasing the music and culture of Steelpan. The sound of Steelpan   arrived in ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />London in the early 50's when the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra came to celebrate the Festival of Britain. Steelband, as a twentieth century art-form grew side by side in popularity with Calypso. The Best  Steelband is decided on Saturday at the annual panorama competition.

Mangrove steel Orchestra at panorama


Static Sound Systems have become an integral part of Notting Hill Carnival with the sounds of reggae, roots, soca, calypso and hip hop. There are around fifty Sound Systems that can be found on most roads within the route.

Rapage sound system




4. Carnival Floats
There are about 100 floats that participate over the two days of Carnival. Carnival costumes, colours and sounds including steel pan, Calypso and Soca Sound Systems travel the route, taking up to 8 hours.

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Re- Specs Bnn Family

7 August 2007