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Get your dancing shoes on!
Notting Hill Carnival (London)
Member Name: Pookypop
Notting Hill Carnival (London)
Date: 02/09/01, updated on 02/09/01 (302 review reads)
Advantages: Music, Atmosphere, The dreamishness of it all
Disadvantages: Crowds, Crime, Litter
The words “peace, love and harmony” usually conjure up a hippy commune or Glastonbury’s earlier days, but add the words “dancing, music and fun” (with a funky bit of mayhem on the side) and you get a whole new picture…
You’re standing in the middle of a road – all around you there are people – as far as the eye can see (between 2 and 3 million to be nearly exact in an estimative kind of way!) As you stumble about in the throng of people you look up and see legs dangling out of every window and off every porch and roof, all of them attached to happy smiley people who are wiggling about, drinking, laughing and enjoying the mayhem in the streets below…
Then you hear the music, some of the bass practically blowing the air out of your lungs. Okay, well that’ll be your fault for standing right next a huge musical flowery thing with people on it. Standing in awe of this beautiful thingamabob you hear a horn going and people shouting for you to get out of the way of the lorry. Lorry??? Yeah – I forgot – the big flowery thing is a carnival float which has taken months to decorate and has a huge sound system and live DJs on it.
Anyway after being nearly run over by about five of these ‘lorries’ (one had some weird drums on it and another had dancing fairy-like creatures showing rather a lot of flesh too!) you decide to walk into a smaller side street which is slightly less crowded and seems to be sporting some particularly welcome refreshment ‘stores’. You browse along taking in the smells of hot dogs, Caribbean delicacies and a few hundred money-making residents selling cans of beer, cola, water, and those lovely lemony, alcoholic, bottled jobbies to anyone who’s wallet is happy to satisfy their mouth … You buy yourself a bottle of water for 50p, a bottle of Smirnoff Ice (£2.00) and a corn on the co
b before heading off back to the main street where the procession, and the people, are starting to liven up (not that you would think it would be possible to be any more ‘alive’!)
You stand for a while in the sun behind one of the barriers and watch peacefully as the different mas dancers go by with their incredibly loud music and their even more impressive twisting, shaking and grinding! You stare at the dancing butterflies with huge colourful wings, and long bright taily things, the animals, the giant African masks on legs and some men and women who love shaking their thing(s) and obviously shop in the same store as Tarzan.
You smile to yourself as you start walking around the next corner wandering what’ll greet you when you get there (as it turns out it’s an amazingly toned African guy who decides to do a bit of fast paced grinding with you!) You manage to keep up (just) and walk rather shakily away with a grin the size of the cob ’o’ corn you just ate.
You look around - everyone’s smiling…. And why shouldn’t they be? This is Notting Hill Carnival!!!
The carnival was started as a local event in 1964 by a group of West Indian immigrants who wanted to preserve a bit of their culture for fun and as a reminder of their homeland. These mini-carnivals would only sport a few small processions with a handful of costumed dancers and some steel drums. Today is, however, an entirely different story. The carnival has grown up and expanded in a BIG way over the last few decades. It is one of the largest street parties in Europe and is now not only there for fun and memories, but also to bring hundreds of different cultures, religions and colours together in what has proven to be a very successful way. This year there were just over 40 static sound systems as well as over 50 mas bands and other street processions.
The carnival runs over a two day period (although sever
al enthusiasts have tried to increase this to a week – to no result though as the residents totally disagree). The Sunday is the children’s carnival which features only children to the age of sixteen dancing and has a shorter procession route (this is the quieter day and is best for families and disabled people). The Monday is the adult’s carnival – when things really heat up and millions more people join in the partying.
So, I hear you say; How do you get there? What on earth are mas bands? And what kind of music are you talking about?
Transport to the carnival is not always easy (I was lucky this year as I got on a relatively quiet bus and followed the mass of people to the main procession)… Listed are the best ways to get to the carnival with the least amount of stress.
Car – This is a definite no-no! There is virtually no way you will survive (stress overload and all) or even get anywhere near the carnival in a car. If you need to drive up to London from wherever you live, you might want to leave your car at a train station just outside of London and proceed that way.
Bus – If you are in the near vicinity of Notting Hill then a bus is an inexpensive and easy option (specially if you have a travelcard). The buses usually get closer to the carnival route than any other road transportation (except maybe a bike, but I wouldn’t advice taking one of those with you!)
Tube – If you’re planning to go by tube it’s a blimmin good idea to pick up a leaflet about the changes that will be made over the carnival period so you don’t get lost or stuck. There are seven tube stations in the area, but some of these will be closed for the day or only be open under special circumstances (one way only, etc).
Mas is basically short for masquerade and band – well – I don’t really need to expl
ain that one do I? Each procession in the carnival is usually made up of the following (in order):
First thing you will see at the start of each separate carnival group/company is the float. This is usually decorated in amazing colours, flyers, or weird fluffy bits and pieces – each one has a different theme. These floats are actually huge lorries which can kinda run you over so be careful not to be too awe-struck by them. Each float features some massive amps which carry the music to the dancers behind and the millions of people in the streets (trust me – you can run, but you can’t hide!)
Men and women of all ages, colours and sizes parading the streets in exquisite costumes performing dance routines or just doing some fun-loving grinding, shaking and ummmmm…. Well basically moving – a lot! Each group of mas dancers have a kind of structure to them:
And the Section mas (rest of the dancers).
You may be trying to puzzle out a point to all this order, but basically, to cut a long story short there are competitions held for combination of the best costume, dance technique and overall spirit for each of the sections. This competition is usually held on the Saturday before the carnival in a local venue. The public may attend, but there is a charge to get in and personally I find it much more exciting without the preview!
What can I say about the music??? Hmmmm, well there are several different types of music featured at the carnival (although you shouldn’t bother to expect metal, indie, or punk!).
Calypso – This is a type of music which is based on telling a story or relaying a message through a beat, one of the more ‘unusual’ styles of music around these days it is jumpy and strangely relaxing at the same time.
Soca – This was one of my favourite styles (that I fell in love with at this years carnival). Mix half a cup of Soul with half a cup of Calypso and you get a cup full of Soca – simple right? Brilliant to dance to with hidden beats and surprising twists, definitely a refreshing sound to follow if you like to shake it!
Ska – Jamaica’s own invention – said to have a bit of a mixed-up beat, kinda as if you scrambled the background and foreground music in a blender, but still making it sound good!
Reggae – Well, I’m pretty sure we all know what Reggae is so I’ll save some space…
Roots – A form of Reggae which is focused more on history, culture and political issues with the proper Rastafarian influences.
Dub – This is exactly what it says really – electronically twisted and distorted music usually used on Reggae or Ragga tracks.
Ragga – Reggae, but faster, wilder and more drum beats than guitar strings. A Reggae for the younger generation some might say…
Phew! I think that’s about all I can write about carnival.. The only other advice is the obvious stuff – be careful, make a plan (yea right!), keep your belongings on you at all times (I still have backache!) and most importantly of the lot – HAVE FUN (although it is pretty hard not to…)
If you have any other questions on carnival feel free to ask as I always have that weird feeling that I’ve forgotten something! Keep smiley, Pooky