The Notting Hill Carnival begins in London

The Notting Hill Carnival begins in London

By Antonia Filmer | 27 August, 2016
A dancer performing at the Notting Hill Carnival in London.

The Notting Hill Carnival begins in London on Sunday 28th August, the largest street festival in Europe and the second largest carnival in the world, just behind Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, with 2 million attendees it is more than ten times bigger than Glastonbury’s music festival.

The first Carnivals were designed as a reunion for all the Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their own cultures and traditions. Caribbean carnivals of the early 19th century typically celebrated the abolition of slavery and the slave trade with particular reference to the Trinidadian Canboulay (‘Cannes Brulees’, meaning ‘burning cane’) processions. When Afro-Caribbean immigrants began to arrive in UK the Carnival was an attempt to showcase the steel band musicians who played in London every weekend. When the bands paraded through the streets of Notting Hill, black residents came out on to the streets, reminded of the Caribbean homes they had left behind. From humble Carnival origins in St Pancras, Marble Arch and Aldwych, in 1966 Rhuane Laslett, a former social worker, introduced  the London Notting Hill Fair. Mrs Laslett told Time Out magazine her vision was to ‘take to the streets using song and dance to ventilate all the pent-up frustrations born out of the slum conditions.’ Her intended outcome of the Notting Hill Fair was to develop and enhance a united relationship among the local population as they struggled for housing improvement and education. She called the first fair ‘a celebration of poverty’. Community cohesion was strengthened in 1969, as a variety of multicultural art forms such as poetry, music and masquerading united approximately two thousand hippies and other Britons with West Indians; in 1973 the organizing committee was supported financially by West Indian Embassies and traders who sold to West Indians.

Today Londoners and holidaymakers come from far and wide to join the fun and social solidarity. The organisers rely on 40,000 volunteers and 9,000 police to keep things running smoothly. 

Today the Carnival has passed its half centenary has established itself as London’s  centre for community spirit, cultural diversity, Caribbean artistic talents and creativity; a  jubilant children’s costumed dancing parade on Sunday pays homage to Mrs Laslett’s vision, it is also a Sunday Carnival tradition to throw handfuls of melted chocolate.

Today Londoners and holiday makers come from far and wide to join the fun and social solidarity, the organisers rely on 40,000 volunteers and 9,000 police to keep things running smoothly. 

The Carnival has various themes, the costume troupes are known as ‘Mas bands’ masquerade, between 80 and 300 people participate in a Mas costume troupe. ‘Mas camps’ use top Trinidadian designers and couturiers to create the 15,000 exotic feathered and sequined costumes on display. Seventy stages present steel pan bands, calypso and funky soca, Moko Jumbie stilt walkers are traditional.

Monday’s Grand Finale is an exuberant stream of life’s colours as 60 bands in magnificent costumes dance to the rhythms of the mobile sound systems and steel bands, the Carnival now contributes approximately £93 million to London’s economy.

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