The crowd throngs an anarchic heave, a bruising beat pumping people on an artery of sin and music, along the veins of Ladbrooke Grove. A flurry of flesh and feathers, slow moving trucks mounted with massive chugging generators powering booming beat boxes, the music holds the history of African and Caribbean, fire burned and cauldron bubbled in the streets of London with the influences of the world. People swirl around me, perning in a gyre.
ORIGIN OF THE FESTIVAL
In 1959, a year after the Notting Hill Race Riots, Claudia Jones, a member of the Trinidadian community, organised a carnival in St Pancrass Town Hall. For the next few years this festival was held indoors in the Town Hall until 1966 when it was combined with another festival to create an outdoor carnival to help unite the many communities of Notting Hill. It has since become Europe’s biggest street party.
Although the parade snakes its way down Ladbrooke Grove and around to Westbourne Grove and Chepstow Road, the many streets between become a labyrinth of tiny dance parties.The boarded up shopfronts and house exteriors welcome you in to purchase £4 rum or jerk chicken or beer or water from erected tables out front. People que at the doors of some of the flats enticed by the offering of a toilet for £2 or less.
The police are everywhere, wandering in and around the streets, trying to balance a look of stern and welcome with hiding their sense of fear. Despite their strong presence there is a feeling that if anything did kick off there is little that they actually could do; 11,000 officers and a couple of hundred thousand people in a maze of small streets. We dance on the precipice of anarchy.
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE AND UNEASE
In 1976 and in many years since, the Notting Hill Carnival has been marred by tension and violence between the participants and police. There have been many calls to close the street party down but, since 1987, the organisers and the police have worked in conjunction in an attempt of keeping the peace. Even still, this year there were a number of stabbings and many arrests.
But it is this exact mix of flavours that gives Notting Hill Carnival its excitement; the festive plumage of the parade belies a more nihilistic anti-establishment freedom in the backstreets; though somehow there is a semblance of order and control.
I preferred the parade myself, the festive pagentry and multi-culted, multi-coloured mix made for an interesting mix of partying people. Here are just a few…