In life there are no certainties… I can’t tell you what I would be doing for a living in five years time, who I would be married to in ten or what country I would be calling home in thirty years from now. But what I can say with some slim degree of certainty in a uncertain universe… regardless of weather, news headlines or distance. Next August 31st and the next August 31st after that, I will be spending it on the streets of Notting Hill surrounded by a rainbow of colours, ground and hip shaking music and a whole feast of good carnival vibes.
Carnival and my most fondest memories as a child have always been intertwined with each other longer then I can ever remember. Every flashback back I have is happily married with; a burst of bright colours that always out shone the sun (or lack of it), a sea of Caribbean flags of every shape and size bobbing up and down high and triumphantly above a crowd and the rhythmic serenading of steel drums. To some Notting Hill Carnival is “Europe’s biggest street festival”, a place where they come for a few hours, soak up the atmosphere, eat some unusual food and take some pictures before going home. But to a lot of us and me in particular the carnival wasn’t just another festival, it was the festival! it was energy, it was belonging, it was life…
I could use all the words in the world and still come no closer to describing what carnival meant to me as a child. When school closed and freedom beckoned me; I went to theme parks, played till dusk at the park and even snuck into rated 15 films (sorry mum), but still for me the whole summer and everything it had to offer was merely a warm up act to carnival, the real main event. That short distance from Notting Hill Gate to Portbello, was like walking on cloud nine, to my young eyes it was like being Dorothy and stepping out of Kansas and into OZ for the very first time. However instead of winged monkeys, I was surrounded by calypso dancer in golden feathers and fire tinted beads looking like crosses between majestic birds and flamboyant angels.
Growing up in a single parent household meant that exotic holidays were a nonexistent, so I was always fascinated by the film Around the World in 80 days because it gave me the vicarious taste of a whole new exciting world just slightly out of my reaches. So instead of going to see the world, thanks to carnival the world came to see me! The only thing as colourful as the outfits were the colours of the faces who marvel at them. Sure its Caribbean culture that is taking center stage, but whether its English, German, Brazilian or Ghanaian, every man, women or child is invited under the umbrella of unity and to bring an aspect of who they are and where they come from to further enrich the proceedings – carnival has always and will always be an explosion of multiculturalism.
Carnival isn’t just a exposure to a different culture, for some it can even act as a homecoming, a home away from home, a reminder of your traditions and where your origins lay.
From Bob Marley to Skepta, carnival could easily satisfy anyone’s music appetite and you were never closer to your motherland then when you were listening to rhythm of its soul. RnB, Hip Hop, Grime, Garage, Reggae, Bashment, it could be Rampage, Mastermind or Chanel One Sound System; regardless the electricity of black music jolts and livens the air, enticing all individuals under its spell to let loose, get rid of their inhibitions and use their bodies to channel every once of joy in their hearts. But it wasn’t just the music that was good and what brought you closer to home! Carnival was a constant battle field of aromas coming from beautiful, mouth watering foods; jerk chicken, rice and peas, dumplings and curry goat, the sweet smell of each fighting for the pleasure of igniting your taste buds and enticing your nose closer. I will generally agree that a mothers cooking is the best in the world, but with a full belly and giant smile on my face, carnival food comes a close second.
I would be lying if I said news headlines reporting on stabbings, drug running or gang violence that happened during the course of Carnival by a few selfish idiots, can sometimes be intimidating and worrying. But you have to remember such things are always going to happen when you bring a million people together and condense them into one small area part of London. However looking on the positive side out the masses that attend Notting Hill Carnival, its always in the 100s of people who feel obligated to commit crimes. This is even more of a shame when you consider the history of good at the heart of carnival; Notting Hill Carnival started in 1966 against a backdrop of Britain ravished by riots as a result of a black community pushed to far by prejudiced and bigotry, out blossomed Carnival to once again make Afro-Caribbean people proud of who they are, where they came from and the skin they were in.
I could spend an entire year waxing lyrical about Notting Hill Carnival, the fun, the dancing, the music, the food, the history. But Carnival is one of those special events in a year , moments in a life time that can only be experienced with your own two eyes, your own body and your own soul. I’m no longer a child (well not technically) and seven hours of walking, standing and twerking can be tiring, but over the course of Notting Hill Carnivals near 50 years and my 20 years, carnival still manages to maintain its glow, its vibrancy and a special place in my heart and calendar.