My Notting Hill, My Carnival

My Notting Hill, My Carnival

Founded in 1959, only 100 years after slavery was abolished in the USA, the first Carnival showcased was a cabaret style showcase of the steel bands performing around London each weekend. It is now a hub for people all over the world wanting to experience the vibrancy of Caribbean culture and the all glorious madness of London life.

Notting Hill Carnival parade participant

Notting Hill Carnival parade participant

My Carnival Life

My first memory of Notting Hill Carnival is from 1995. I was five years old, had flowers painted on my face to match my favourite dress. It was my first memory of being there, though I had been already been a regular carnival-goer for the past four years. My mother recounts the story of sitting me on  her lap, aged 8 months, outside of our flat on Lancaster Road to experience what would be the  first of 25 carnivals, and counting.

Mid-August, Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill begins to buzz with an energetic air that emanates the vibrations ‘Carnival is coming!’ Local shops and restaurants are boarded up and sales of Jamaica’s famous lager Red Stripe soar, the community I have grown up in prepares for our favourite time of year.

For me, Carnival, is more than a bank holiday spent dancing the sun (sometimes!) – it’s a celebration of my Bajan & Montserratian Roots, in my favourite city in the world. My blood is Caribbean and Scandinavian but I’m British through and through. London is my home and to have a space to commemorate all of my ancestries and histories over two days fills me with such pride.  It’s a display  of unity, strength and freedom. No matter how far I travel, and how many incredible festivals I go to, I’m always   sure to be home for Carnival,  there is  simply nothing as great.

Held every August over the bank holiday weekend, Notting Hill Carnival is the annual celebration of Afro-Caribbean communities in London, though people come from all over the country, Europe and in fact the world over. Led by the British West Indian community, the Carnival is Europe’s biggest street party, attracting over 1 million people over the two-day event.

Notting Hill Carnival residents

Notting Hill Carnival residents

Some History

At the roots of the Notting Hill Carnival are the Caribbean carnivals of the early 19th century – a particularly strong tradition in Trinidad – all about celebrating the abolition of slavery and the slave trade.

And whilst Carnival’s ethos was stamped with these roots from the outset, its formulation in the mid-1960s came from two separate but interconnected strands.

A “Caribbean Carnival” was held on 30 January 1959 in St Pancras Town Hall as a response to the problematic state of race relations at the time; the UK’s first widespread racial attacks, the Notting Hill race riots in which 108 people were charged, had occurred the previous year. The 1959 event, held indoors and televised by the BBC, was organised by the Trinidadian Claudia Jones, often described as “the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival”, in her capacity as editor of Britain’s first black newspaper The West Indian Gazette, and directed by Edric Connor; showcased elements of a Caribbean carnival in a cabaret style format, it “featured among other things the Mighty Terror singing the calypso ‘Carnival at St Pancras’, a Caribbean Carnival Queen beauty contest, the Trinidad All Stars and Hi–fi steel bands dance troupe and a Grand Finale Jump-Up by West Indians who attended the event ,” as quoted in the “About us”, Notting Hill Carnival ’13, London Notting Hill Enterprises Trust.

The other important strand was the “hippie” London Free School-inspired festival in Notting Hill that became the first organised outside event in August 1966. The key instigater was Rhaune Laslett, who was not aware of the indoor events when she first raised the idea. This festival was a more diverse Notting Hill event to promote cultural unity. A street party for neighbourhood children turned into a carnival procession when Russell Henderson’s steel band (who had played at the earlier Claudia Jones events) went on a walkabout. By 1970  Carnival consisted of 2 music bands, the Russell Henderson Combo and Selwyn Baptiste’s Notting Hill Adventure Playground Steelband and 500 people in attendance.

Moving on to how Carnival came to take the shape in the way it known today, we meet a young teacher, Leslie Palmer, who first organised Carnival as a major festival in 1975. He was the Official Director of the event between 1973 and 1975 and is credited with negotiating sponsors, recruiting more steel bands, reggae and ragga sound systems, introducing generators and extended the Carnival route. She also encouraged traditional costume, and for the first time in 1975 costumed dancers and musicians and steel bands hailing from all across  the Caribbean Islands took part in the street party riding on floats alongside the brand-new stationary sound systems.

By this time, the event had Caribbean flavours running deeply through it’s veins, attracting 150,000 people. And as Carnival grew it was marred by violent interactions with the police and subsequent rioting. The problems appeared to only escalate and it seemed as  likely the event was on course to be banned.

However in recent years, with the installation of more CCTV cameras in the area, better flow management and the deployment of thousands of Metropolitan Police Officers patrolling the street with a more conciliatory attitude to policing, the event has been affected by less violence and trouble and attention is back with the revelry.

As of 2003 the Carnival has been run by ‘The Notting Hill Carnival Trust Ltd’. Whilst the Carnival has come under scrutiny for its cost to the London taxpayer (the cost of policing the event is said to be over £7 million), it is estimated that the Carnival contributes over £100 million to the London & UK economy – even Prince Charles is a vocal supporter of the event!

Notting Hill Carnival crowds

Notting Hill Carnival crowds

Carnival Today

Today Carnival is expression, culture, unity and pride; a celebration not only of  Afro-Caribbean communities in the UK but a celebration of their place in British society. Yet, it’s also a celebration of us all! Everyone is welcome, and encouraged to come with an open mind and comfortable shoes.

Reggae, ragga, dancehall, soca, bashment and house music  fill every street, alley way and square  of Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill and Westbourne Park from the morning  until the summer sun sets with Carnival finishing this year at 8.30pm.

For the authentic  Carnival experience, there’s nothing like  a can of Jamaican lager and a box of freshly barbequed jerk chicken, rice and peas. The procession this year will begin at the top of Great Western Road, follow the floats and vibrant costumes along turning onto Westbourne Park Road to experience some of the best stationary sound systems that Carnival has to offer and meet the floats back on Ladbroke Grove for the rest of the procession.

Sunday is ‘A Family Day’, fewer crowds are in attendance  crowd than the Monday, and families dressed head to toe in Caribbean inspired colours, with face painting happening all over the event. Monday is ‘The Grand Finale’, also known as adult’s day when the crowds are bigger, tunes are louder and the dancing gets sexier.

Whichever day you decide to go,  the welcoming, warm and wonderful hub of this street party’s energy, music and people bathing in the diversity and madness that is Notting Hill Carnival will forever have a place in your heart.

For more on the history look here:

For info on transport and maps + schedules:

Further references:

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Written by Tasha Brade who is Office Manager at Pilot Productions HQ here in London

You can check out her blog on life as a Londoner here:

The Venice Carnival: Ten Experiences Not to Be Missed

The Venice Carnival: Ten Experiences Not to Be Missed

To one side of you stands a cloaked man, cheering jovially, to the other a woman resplendent in sequins and satins and feathers, dancing to the beat of the music; and beyond – thousands of similarly masked revellers. Where are you? Venice, of course, at its most vibrant and theatrical and romantic of world carnivals.  Author and seasoned reveller – Hannah Fielding shares her top ten Carnival experiences to add to your ‘must do’ list.

Top Tips for Venice Carnival

  1. Book tickets for one of the many Carnival balls – with themes from burlesque to masquerade to enchantment, there’s a party to suit all tastes.
  2. Visit Ca’ Macana, the shop of the best mask maker in Venice. All masks are handmade, and the artistry is exquisite. Buy for yourself one of the classic Carnival masks, such as the Colombina or the Bauta.
  3. Sample a Carnival speciality from one of the street vendors whose wares perfume the air such to make your stomach rumble. The cakes are divine, especially the warm and sweet frittelle Veneziane filled with zabaione cream.
  4. Watch a local beauty pageant winner zip-wire from the Campanile bell tower in the traditional Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel).
  5. Visit the Arsenale to take in a historical show, live music concerts, street artist performances and, it’s promised, ‘dancing fountains’!
  6. Head to St Mark’s Square to see the parade for the daily Best Masked Costume Competition (enter yourself, if you’re so inclined; the theme is ‘La Natura Fantastica’).
  7. Drink in the romantic atmosphere in St Mark’s Square as you watch sultry tango dancers perform on the Gran Teatro stage.
  8. Brush up on your art history with a free guided tour and talk at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection art museum. This year’s Carnival exhibition is ‘The Empire of Light’.
  9. Embrace the last vestiges of winter with ice-skating in the Campo San Polo. Costume optional!
  10. Join the throngs alongside the Grand Canal for the closing event of the Carnival: a water-borne procession of costumed Venetians on decorated boats and classic gondolas. Be sure to take a camera – this is one spectacle you’ll want to record. (more…)

Carnival Season Around the World

Carnival season 2013 is upon us and whether you are in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, or South America, there is no shortage of celebrations happening all around the world. The most well known festivals are celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Sydney, Australia, Venice, Italy and Trinidad and Tobago.

Mardi Gras is centered mainly around the French Quarter of New Orleans for approximately two weeks and commences on Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 12th this year. However, the multiple parades take place Uptown and in mid-city, due to the narrow streets in the French Quarter. From the elaborately decorated floats, wild costumes, lively music, famous King Cakes, to the lengths people will go to in order to obtain a plethora of colorful, signatory beads, there is never a dull moment or a shortage of purple, green and gold.

Globe Trekker host, Justine Shapiro took part in the Mardi Gras festivities when she was invited to join one of the 27 floats of the Krewe of Orpheus. In true Mardi Gras fashion, Justine wore a jester costume and adorned herself with multiple beads.

Globe Trekker New Orleans

Rio De Janeiro, fittingly known as the carnival capital of the world, is no stranger to celebrations. Rio’s Carnival dates coincide with Mardi Gras, beginning on Saturday February 9th and ending on February 12th this year. During Carnival, the various samba schools, each representing their specific neighborhood, are the main draw. Samba dancers often rehearse months before Carnival and are decked out in extravagant handmade costumes with lavish headpieces. Globe Trekker Host, Ian Wright dives head first into samba, learning from the school, Caprichosos de Pilares and ultimately taking part in the parade.

Rio - 3

Rio - 2

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, takes places from February 8th through March 3rd this year and is Sydney, Australia’s biggest event of the year. Justine Shapiro takes viewers on a firsthand experience of this liberating celebration of expression and equal rights. Anything goes in this parade, from the Scantily clad costumes to dancing in the streets, drawing a crowd of over a million people to be free to be themselves. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras and is themed quite appropriately as, “The Generations of Love.”

Sydney - 10

Sydney - 12

The two most celebrated days of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago fall on February 11th and 12th this year, right before Ash Wednesday and has been called, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Justine Shapiro lets viewers inside the Caribbean’s biggest carnival as she joins in the celebration.

Music is a highlight for this carnival, with various competitions, including the International Soca Monarch competition and the National Panorama competition that innovatively incorporates the use of steel pans, garbage can lids, pots and pans to create sounds, rhythms and melodies. Bikinis with headpieces adorned in feathers are often seen during Carnival among a multitude of various character costumes, from Minstrels, Jab Jab’s, Midnight Robber’s to Dragons and Bats.

Globe Trekker Eastern Caribbean

Globe Trekker Eastern Caribbean

Justine travels to The Venice Carnival, which takes place in St. Mark’s Square and is centered around various types of eclectic looking masks, allowing people to maintain a bit of anonymity and play a different character. Like the other carnivals, Venice also commences on February 12th this year, marking the start of Lent. The mask contests and the water show on the Venice canals are two highlights of the Carnival and what better excuse to travel to this gorgeous city than to attend one of the biggest celebrations of the year?

Globe Trekker: Great Festivals 3

This is undoubtedly an exhilarating time of year to dress up, celebrate cultural milestones and bask in the traditions that were established decades ago. Carnivals are plentiful around the world and although the five mentioned here are some of the most popular ones, they are definitely not the only ones.

For more information on these Carnivals, you can view them on the DVD links posted below, available at:

DVD: Great Festivals of the World

DVD: Great Festivals 2