Ok so I’m not here to give you a whole history lesson on Notting Hill Carnival but there is no denying that in its 54 years since beginning in London, important moments have risen from this. I’m not an expert in all things Notting Hill Carnival, but I’m here to talk about why you should care – it’s the 2nd largest carnival after Rio de Janeiro. To put this into perspective, Notting Hill Carnival is around 11 times bigger than Glastonbury’s attendance!
Carnival is traditionally from French culture that was imported to Trinidad and Tobago during the slave trade. Eventually, the British colonised the islands. As the people of the islands had been partaking in carnival for decades, this became tradition for natives there. When many of those from Trinidad and Tobago (as well as many other Caribbean nations) came to the UK via the Wind Rush, they also brought their carnival tradition with them, thus Notting Hill Carnival was born in 1966.
Originally known as the ‘Caribbean Festival’ up until ’66, Notting Hill Festival did not have a peaceful beginning. Born out of the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots – the beginning of what we know and love today is marked unfortunately by the intolerance of the far-right and racism ingrained within British society. However, embracing the differences in culture has helped break down stereotypes and enriched many people’s own cultural capital.
Carnival has always been about the display of beautiful and intricate costumes; today is no different. Notting Hill Carnival introduced the first world-class sound system, mainstream blending of Afro-Caribbean beats and amazing dance moves. From your samba to your calypso, it will get your heart going. The carnival itself is a staple in many people’s lives as the diversity of cultures blend with that of West London. Regardless of age, gender, race, and ethnicity – people come together to celebrate what makes one another unique. The festivities are about learning each other’s cultures and finding ways to peacefully live together… and sharing some glazed plantain that neighbours have cooked to feed hungry revellers!
As street performers pass by, many children and adults on the side are being told a story through dance. From stories of emancipation from slavery, to celebrations of life and death – there is so much going on that one can hardly describe. Performers also embrace onlookers by often stopping during the concession to teach them some classic dance moves you see in calypso or samba. Embracing such vibrant cultures through dance is an emotional experience, no wonder thousands, if not millions of people attend this over the August bank holiday weekend!
This is a joyous occasion to celebrate the blending of multiple cultures – a day to give it your all. Strangers become friends over this time and is a way for revellers to learn about the local community as many performers live in and around the area.
Similar to how carnival became ingrained in the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, Notting Hill Carnival has a special place and importance to London. As one of the most diverse cities in the world, it is activities such as carnival that allows generations after generations to learn and explore different cultures. People travel from all over the UK and the world to spend their time getting stuck into taking part in their own way as performers make their way around the area. I implore you all to immerse yourself in Notting Hill Carnival at least once. I promise you will not be disappointed!