Thousands of vibrant costumes dance through the streets; an elaborate blend of green, red, blue and yellow masquerading to competing sounds of pan, calypso, soca, and sound systems. Scantily-clad dancers in plumed head-gear keep smiles in tact while being hugged and mobbed by crowds of revellers in endless photo-shoots. Along the 3.5 mile route, barbequed jerk chicken wafts through the party atmosphere as enterprising folk set up street stalls to sell rice and peas, cans of Red Stripe, whistles and horns.
Am I in the Caribbean? No, this is Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest street festival held every summer in west London. At the 2009 carnival on 31st August over 400,000 visitors joined the main procession featuring dozens of decorated floats and thousands of performing artists.
A festival for everyone – of socially and ethnically diverse backgrounds – that pulls all Londoners and visitors together in one big street party, its origins stem from Trinidad. Following immigration to London and tough conditions in the 1950s, Afro-Caribbeans sought a means to celebrate musical traditions and cultures together, and – influenced by the Trinidad Carnival of 1833 celebrating the abolition of slavery – held the first carnival in west London in 1964. Its goal was two-fold: to uplift spirits and encourage all Londoners to free-expression in the street and embrace Caribbean culture. Still continuing the tradition of dressing up in costumes or mas (masquerade) it is estimated that over a million hours are put into creating the flamboyant outfits for the Notting Hill Carnival every year.
Streets are tightly packed but – in the spirit of togetherness – people help each other out to move along with the dancing, cacophonous, flow. A strong police presence blends into the background leaving party-goers to enjoy the festivities in the hot, summer sun.
My forehead burns in temperatures reaching almost 30°C – I’ve forgotten my sun-cream. Is this really London? Or the Caribbean?
~ Notting Hill Carnival photos
~ This entry featured in the Turks & Caicos Weekly News:
Click on the “fullscreen” icon (bottom right of article) to read in full view