Notting Hill Carnival

August 2022

Why I cried at Carnival:

It was around 7:30am and London All Stars Steel Band were ahead of Ebony, leading the revellers up and down again along Ladbroke Grove. This was Sunday morning D’Jouvert - a party where carnivalists douse each other in paint and flour to celebrate the start of Carnival.


Two percussionists were walking alongside the open top truck banging their cowbells - one on the onbeat and the other twice on the offbeat. They reinforced the groove that the band of twenty pan players atop the truck were playing. A beautiful summery melody with strong rooted chord progressions and a lively bassline rang out - the kind that flows through the air like a murmuration of musical starlings. It struck me how much these musicians gave; they were the fuel to this mass energy and they were being so generous with their time and talents. On and on they kept playing, and the music never stopped.


People were dancing beside the truck. Everyone was smiling. Strangers cheered one another as they danced - and danced in support of one another - rejoicing in this rare moment of being able to share a whine with a stranger whilst being serenaded by pan and its summery tones. There were no thoughts of the past, no thoughts of the future, no thoughts of anything other than this very moment: the time when we grooved together, the time when we felt free and let loose on these streets.


I cried here because it had been so long since we were able to share moments like these, and because it was exactly what we needed. The pandemic put a stop to a physical carnival (and physical touch as we knew it) so it had been three years since the last. During this time I felt that we grew more and more sceptical of one another, and less and less connected to one another. I was nervous for how Carnival would pan out because of this, and being at D’Jouvert and experiencing communal happiness to this extent, made me smile and cry my eyes out.


It’s infuriating to see that the media perpetuates a negative rhetoric of Carnival. We read that it’s a violent and dangerous affair and every year are presented with statistics of the number of people harmed and arrested. Rarely do we hear about how it’s close to two million people sharing special moments like these, and even more rarely do we engage in conversations about how Carnival offers bountiful opportunities for collective joy and togetherness. We also don’t talk about the importance of spaces like these for those attending, especially Black people. There’s time and space to get carried away with the music. To dance and to sing. To throw paint and flour. To let loose. To whine and flirt, and to be amongst like minded people. This is joy. This is culture. And this is relief from everyday pressures, and my do we need it.


Using both a camera and an audio recorder I want to publicise to the world - but especially to my fellow white people (including my mum who left me a note warning me against bringing my expensive camera to Carnival) - that Notting Hill Carnival is not this violent event that we allow ourselves to believe. Quite the opposite really - and speaking very generally - it’s an occasion to dance and celebrate with people of all walks of life, nationalities, cultures and races. It’s a utopia: a unifying blueprint for what can be achieved if we white people challenge our conceptions of what Carnival is, and what Black people stand for. It’s urgent and essential. We need to uphold these increasingly rare spaces of history and unity - not only for people of colour but for white people too - for we could learn a thing or two from Carnival.

Feathers, mas band, jewellery, pink
Feathers, glasses, woman
Legs, red, flags
people, red background, corner
crowd, notting hill carnival
man, fingers to head, gun fingers, hat
drinks, notting hill carnival
young men, boys, hands, gang signs, trigger finger
man, balloon, blue, sunglasses
balloons, women
man, sitting, hat, looking away
children, doorstep
woman, pink, one piece, tracksuit, doorstep
men, doorstep, notting hill carnival
man and woman, sunglasses, signs, red balloon
Notting Hill Carnival, traffic lights, hat
notting hill carnival, glasses, flag around hand
Nos, balloons, man, laughing gas
crowd, street, Notting Hill Carnival
grinding, whining, dancing, Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival, dancing, whining
paint, d'jouvert, sitting chilling
Notting Hill Carnival, chilling, paint, D'jouvert
Devil, horn, black body paint, helmet, red tongue, Notting Hill Carnival
Devil, horn, black body paint, helmet, red tongue, Notting Hill Carnival
Woman, white headdress, smiling