By David F. Roberts
Whether spoken or not the inconvenience of not being able to relieve oneself without being ripped off by opportunistic landlords looking to exploit Notting Hill Carnival has long been a consideration for families wanting to experience the splendour of Europe’s largest street party. It would seem that Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has heard the cries of the revellers and visitors alike about the inadequate facilities in the toilets and has moved to provide green toilets otherwise known as compost loos. These have been equipped with sanitizers and extra toilet paper for the 50th anniversary of Notting Hill Carnival.
Not exactly the quality one would expect at the Ritz London Hotel but the compost loos are a much appreciated convenience that have certainly added to enhancing the visitor experience of this once a year cultural spectacle. Judging from the queues, the Council’s innovative idea has not come too soon and is no doubt going to prove a sensible investment both economic and social, over time.
Notting Hill Carnival. 2016 recognized this year as particularly symbolic as it celebrates 50 years of showcasing steel bands and floats (costume bands) through the streets of west London has long been the centre of one controversy or another. As can be expected an event this large with such huge economic impact on the local London economy, run by essentially by a team of Caribbean professionals will attract criticism, ridicule and unwarranted vitriol from the establishment, mainstream media and even, at times, the African Caribbean community it serves.
In recent years since two men were murdered in 2000 and the arrest of 500 youth who were involved in ‘serious rioting’ in 2008 there have been calls for the carnival to be moved to a park. Since then the reporting of carnival each year has been negative, uncomplimentary and unjustifiably sensationalized. It would appear this approach to reporting on Notting Hill carnival is to subliminally implant fear and discomfort in the minds of west London property owners and residents to sway them to vote against the celebration of Caribbean freedom on their streets and in their neighbourhood. Here’s an example of a couple of headlines: 1. Evening Standard: ‘Hold Notting Hill carnival in a park’: fresh calls for event to move after horrific stabbing of teenager and 2. Telegraph: More than 400 arrested and five people stabbed at Notting Hill Carnival
Comparatively speaking Glastonbury Festival (the world’s biggest pop festival held in Britain) that confirmed an attendance of 135,000 with 11 arrests this year is 10 times smaller than Notting Hill carnival and attended almost entirely by Caucasians in a fenced area while Notting Hill carnival on the other hand is attended by almost every ethnic group known to man, on the streets. Of course there’ll be security issues, such as disagreements to settle, feuds to disrupt and passions to quell, all in some way influenced by the presence of alcohol and drugs. The point here is, managing a ‘mobile’ event that boasts 1 million people from varying ethnic backgrounds in high temperatures with loud music, alcohol and drugs is bound to be a security challenge and costly, so the risks should be assessed properly; measures and counter measures taken to mitigate serious risks; allocate the funds and let the party continue. Demolishing or altering the character of Notting Hill carnival by relegating it to some park will not just be the UK Caribbean’s loss but Britain’s as a whole!
The author attended both days this year, Sunday 28th August for the Kiddies carnival and Monday 29th August for the adults and had a blast of a time. In spite of the overcast and intermittent rain on the Sunday the children took to the streets and performed to their hearts delight. The dance routines were amazing particularly those demonstrated by the kids of the Majestic Mas Movement band. The judges were visibly pleased and showed their appreciation through rapturous applause.
Day two or the Grand Finale was a spectacle to behold under near immaculate weather. There were some 60 bands paraded this year under wall to wall sunshine including Visions, Elimu Mas, Pure Lime, Majestic Mas Movement, Mas Domnik UK and others. The competition, as always, was fierce as bands vie for new members to improve their showing the following year particularly in light of the increasing difficulties to attract funding. Investment in the right sound system and more importantly ‘good’ DJ’s is essential as this spells the difference between attracting young keen followers who will spend on costumes or just being a lame band on the road with unenthusiastic followers.
In a show of solidarity there are ‘Carnivalists’ who travel from all parts of the UK, Canada, the USA and the Caribbean to participate in the revelling or secure prominent vantage points to view the floats. A couple from Birmingham came down specifically to follow a band with a view to joining and were elated by the performance and ‘friendly atmosphere’ of the Majestic Mas Movement band. They were very impressed with the DJ’s and the variety of music played. One Korean visitor asked the author if he could ask the DJ’s to turn up the music because she loved it and couldn’t hear it against the band in front.
Notting Hill carnival has managed to survive 50 years as an event celebrating the abolition of slavery and the slave trade and has every right to be allowed to continue, if only to provide the UK Caribbean community, the descendants of those who sacrificed everything to help make Britain “great”, an opportunity to express themselves freely in a post-colonial environment for two days. The economic implications of the event are by no means lost on the UK Caribbean community and a proper conversation about how to harness financial rewards for the benefit of the community is yet to be had and could well be part of the reparation agenda.