Notting Hill Carnival 2020: Bringing the culture to the masses

This week is the longest. This time last year a babygurl was rushing to help a talented costume designer put the final touches on what I believe to be the best carnival costumes on the Notting Hill Carnival road (nobody @ me, Wassiville to de worl’). However, this year, this week, I am being faced with the ultimate uncomfortability, that the one event I look forward to for the entire year (and that I have previously missed holidays for), not only isn’t happening, but the government has now put in measures to try and suppress any alternative activities of enjoyment that we may have planned to make up for the cultural loss.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really do understand that we are still in the midst (maybe the outer circumference) of a pandemic and there is a need to keep people safe. I am also aware that over 1 million people make their way to the streets of West London to celebrate the annual event that holds together many of the children of the diaspora, and celebrates the hybrid nature and culture that London has to offer. So yes, I get that numbers are one hell of a factor at a time where the government has seemly tried to protect the masses from catching a life-threatening virus. But a £10,000 fine for organisers of illegal gatherings right before the UK’s "Biggest street party”? I just would love to know where this energy was when Brits were swarming to Southend at the height of summer to be honest.

Frustration doesn’t even sum up how I feel about this (in my opinion) form of social control, especially because Carnival stands as important and integral to my culture and identity as any protest (yup we can jump back a couple months).

See the issue is, I have grown up with a certain type of narrative and stereotypes, a very superficial understanding of my culture broadcasted to the masses in a way that was so selective that a lot of us growing up simply couldn’t identify with. Not every Black British household (in London in particular) had a Topboy suited existence. Not everybody has had to hustle in the most obvious ways - this is not to say that this is not the existence of some members of the Black British community but it is not an existence that everyone should be generalised & painted with. Other forms of representation would be nice. The Notting Hill Carnival acts as a way of showcasing the different varieties of Black culture that are strong in their independence. And by this I mean the sub-cultures that document and showcase more experiences that, in turn display a vast, nourishing culture that differs from island to island, celebrating the richness that comes in the versatility of a culture that is multifaceted, but isn’t represented as such.

Carnival is the one time of year that openly expresses the grounding to the culture of my heritage. With themes drawing back to our ancestry, traditions, spirituality, our celebrations, our food and our music, I am able to bathe in the glory of a culture that in it’s concentrated form, I didn’t physically grow up within but has heavily influenced my identity and yet celebrates the hybrid nature of what it is to be Black and British. Unapologetically. In a space in time, where unfortunately some of us have grown to feel like we need to be apologetic for being who we are. There is unrepressed freedom to the parade, engulfed by the music echoed to us throughout our childhood, feeling empowered, liberated and sexy in the costume that so much hard work and creativity goes into, a sense of community shared - like an extended family reunion. There is an overwhelming feeling of unison that stands true to the initial Notting Hill carnival parade of 1959, needed to bring together and support the West Indian community, the Windrush Generation, that were facing a type of hardship & resistance to their existence here that they could never have imagined. It is our way to solidifying the importance of this culture, as British as anything else, for everyone to see.

For me, knowing the input and contribution Caribbean people have brought to this country, through the NHS, through the rail and tube networks, through trades, the sound systems, theatre industries and much more, the children of the diaspora and the culture that has facilitated a deeper degree of knowledge and creativity, all must be honoured. Carnival is paying homage. It’s standing true to struggles of the past, being empowered on the past as we move towards the future. This is why it is so important for me to represent this culture and all the greatness it has to offer. It is why I chose to pitch a radio show that focuses on the music coming out from and influenced by these islands, representing the Caribbean culture and artistry we have represented in the UK and educating audiences on these rich roots and culture. It is why this show is currently one of the joys of my existence, and something so far, I am so so proud of (hold tight No Signal and their drive to really showcase the greatness our community has to offer!)

There is so much to Caribbean culture than just what meets the eye and it important that those who are passionate about it, do their bit to educate people on it. Ignorance leads to disrespect and we owe so much more to those who worked for our betterment, for us to be in the position we are today. This is why young black creatives such deserve our support, we are becoming better at changing the narrative but we can only do so as a community if we keep on pushing, growing and supporting.

I grew up feeling as though my heritage wasn’t represented in mainstream media. Smaller islands were known for being perfect holiday destinations but not much more. Carnival playlists wouldn’t have soca on them and when they did, it’d be that 2 songs from 10 years ago (yes we loved Palance but please, it is as old as Cheryl’s divorce from Ashley Cole… we release new soca every year, rate my culture). Soca is carnival music, how can that be ignored? Especially when we have brilliance coming out the scene in the UK that sounds as authentically Caribbean as Trinidadian soca itself. Following the digitalisation of NHC this year, I hope this will change, the culture is being broadcast to millions, and not just one aspect of it, all aspects of it. And I kinda want to play my part in this, whether this be me opening up a few more people to learning a song they didn’t hear before, realising that we have some world class artists here, or acknowledging that in the midst of the celebrations there are themes rooted in resilience, protest, trauma, community, family and much much more. Personally if Afro-beats can do it, Soca definitely can.

Anyway amidst of the governmental suppression, ‘allyuh’ will see me showcasing the culture loud and proud this weekend. Carnival in this country started from a movement, from a protest, from a need of unity and in a time where we still are having to scream Black Lives Matter, carnival culture remains and will always remain a necessity even if eventually it will act as an annual reminder of where we have come from. Hence why I shall keep the same energy this carnival Monday, in my carnival costume, regardless of the measures put in place to control the masses. Because, really, the drive for change is worth far more than the fear of consequences. Catch my show Biweekly Friday 5-7pm on No Signal Radio.

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