Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival

The Notting Hill Carnival traces its routes back to the culture of the Caribbean. When Black African slaves were first brought to the Caribbean they were not permitted to play music, own instruments or dance. However, as the slavery regime settled down, a strong local tradition of carnival emerged. Once a year, enslaved people symbolically escaped from the oppression of their daily routine by playing music, dancing, and dressing up in 'masquerade' costumes.

The tradition came to London with the migration of workers and their families from the Caribbean to Britain after the Second World War. By the late 1950s, many Caribbeans were living in Notting Hill, a poor area. There they faced racism, bad housing conditions and, in 1958, fear of violent attack from rioting white youths. The idea of a Caribbean carnival emerged as a way of reasserting community cohesion after the 1958 unrest.

Claudia Jones, the editor of the West Indian Gazette, was the moving spirit behind the idea. The first carnival celebration was held in the town hall in St Pancras in 1962. This was a great success and became an annual event. In 1965, local social worker Rhaune Laslett suggested holding some outdoor festivities in Notting Hill. The two celebrations were combined and so the carnival began. The skills of costume-making, steel drumming and calypso gradually came together to establish a festival of music, arts and culture.

In the mid-1970s, the carnival was marred by violence in which mainly young black and white men clashed with police and each other. But by the 1980s the carnival had become a moving symbol of London's diversity. Of all the carnivals held around the world, London's is the most distinctively multicultural, growing from its Caribbean core to embrace carnival traditions from South America, Asia and Europe.

By the end of the century, the Notting Hill Carnival was attracting up to 1.5 million spectators and 80 Carnival bands. There were 22 prizes: 18 for costume and four for music. The carnival has five disciplines: Mas'-costumed processions and floats; Calypso-traditional Trinidadian music; Soca-Calypso music; Steelpan- traditional Trinidadian steel instruments, and Static sound systems-traditional Jamaican music

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