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Notting Hill Carnival

The Origins

Aug 12, 2020

The origins of Notting Hill Carnival are more relevant than ever today

Notting Hill Carnival has danced vibrant colours and unstoppable rhythms through the streets of London for over 50 years. But it’s more than a seriously fun street party – it’s a symbol of unity, and a celebration of Caribbean culture in London and the UK.

It may not be able to take place this year, but the carnival spirit lives on – and we need it now more than ever, as the motivations for creating the carnival ring truer than ever in 2020.

The beginnings

The earliest form of Notting Hill Carnival was actually held indoors, in St Pancras Hall on 30th January 1959. It was a Caribbean Carnival, organised by Claudia Jones, a journalist and activist from Trinidad and Tobago. She felt that the local Caribbean community needed to come together and lift their spirits after the Notting Hill race riots the previous year – which were violent, racially motivated attacks against the area’s black and Afro-Caribbean community.

The January carnival provided the Caribbean community in the UK with a way to celebrate their culture, to stand up loud and proud and come together with music, dance and community spirit.

Claudia Jones went on to arrange several more indoor Caribbean Carnival celebrations, which lived by their slogan "A people's art is the genesis of their freedom."

The first street party

Notting Hill as we know it saw its first event in 1966. It was organised by Rhaune Laslett. She wanted to bring all the different cultural groups of the Notting Hill neighbourhood together - to

The street processions actually happened by accident – when Russell Henderson's steel band (who had played at the earlier Claudia Jones carnivals) went on a ‘walkabout’.

By 1976, Trinidadian activist & teacher Leslie Palmer had grown the Carnival 150,000 attendees and featured many reggae groups, steel bands and soundsystems as well, of course, as dancers.

Today

Notting Hill Carnival normally sees 2.5 million people get together to party in the streets of London. It requires 40,000 volunteers to run & lasts all weekend over the August Bank Holiday weekend. It’s a party like no other – where people from all backgrounds come together to dance and celebrate.

We may not be able to get together this year and crowd around the speakers, moving to the rhythms and raising our glasses as the bass line drops. But 2020 has been tough, and it’s more important than ever that we come together and celebrate the vibrant culture of the Caribbean and appreciate music and dance.

So come down and join us with a Reggae Rum Punch or two, or find out here about how you can get involved in the virtual Notting Hill celebrations.


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