Notting Hill’s annual summer carnival assaults all of the senses. The spicy aroma of jerk chicken sizzling on a grill gets the mouth watering. The bass from a dub reggae sound system sets a pulsing beat. All around, people are jostling, shouting, laughing and dancing.
If you don’t like large crowds or boisterous parties, then Notting Hill Carnival is certainly not for you. But if you do, then block out the August bank holiday weekend in your diary, and get ready to let your hair down.
The carnival began in the late 1950s, following large-scale immigration from the Caribbean islands into the Notting Hill neighbourhood during the post-war years. Tensions existed between the incoming Caribbean population and indigenous Londoners, and a Caribbean-style carnival was proposed as a way of making the Caribbean population feel at home and introduce their culture to curious Londoners.
In 1965 the party took its first steps outside, when a parade route was devised around the main Notting Hill streets of Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Grove and Chepstow Road. By the mid-1970s, attendance at the carnival had rocketed from a few thousand to 150,000, and by 2000, 1.5 million people turned up to dance, drink and revel at what had become Europe’s largest street party.
Colourful costumes on parade
The spicy aroma of jerk chicken sizzling on a grill gets the mouth watering.
The carnival has assumed a broader cultural mantle over the years, and many varied communities play a role in planning and staging the event. Caribbean music, such as soca and calypso, is still the heart and soul of the carnival, but it faces loud competition from rap, house music, drum and bass, and reggae.
Dancing to the steelpan beat
Despite the forty or so sound systems – mobile music stages staffed by a DJ and sometimes an MC and dancers – the roots of carnival lie in steelpan music, which developed in Trinidad during the 1940s, when instruments were fashioned from dustbin lids, paint pots, old oil drums and a rhythm hammered out with sticks of bamboo. The sound became more sophisticated over the years, becoming the sonorous, upbeat steelpan sound of today.
The weekend gets into full swing on the Saturday evening, with the steel band competition and a parade of extravagantly decorated floats and outrageously costumed dancers around the 4-mile (7km) circuit of Notting Hill. Sunday is children’s day, when up to 70 multi-coloured and beautifully adorned floats and steel bands, all featuring under-21s, parade along the route from mid-morning onwards. Monday is the climax of the carnival, with all-day action on the route and surrounding streets.
There are hundreds of events taking place throughout the UK over the bank holiday weekend. Discover live music, stand-up comedy, and much more.
(24 October 2013)
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