“Booties shaking, bodies grinding, music pumping – it’s Carnival Madness!”
Was a spectator of the annual Notting Hill Carnival during the Aug Bank hols (26-27 Aug) and left with nothing but respect that the Carribeans are THE party animals of this world!
The annual event is the 2nd largest street party, after Rio in Brazil. Started back in 1965 as a celebration of the diversity within the Carribean population, the carnival showcases great music, parade of mas (short for masquerade) bands and steelpan performances. For 2 days in a year, the whole Notting Hill is cordoned off to traffic for the 3.5mile parade route and street parties.
The serious part of the 2 day event is the mas parades, with Sunday being Children’s Day (tailored for families and kids) and Monday as Adult’s Day when costumes are more elaborate and revealing. Each group, collectively known as a band, will feature themed costumes and is represented by different schools or associations. 2007 theme is “Set All Free” – celebrating the bi-centenary of the passing of Abolition of the Slave Trade Act – thus most mas bands are focusing on African issues.
Following each band will be a truck loaded with many huge speakers blasting out thumping Calypsonian songs or accompanied by steel pan/percussion performers. Most of the performers, mostly females, were showing off their booties-shaking talents and lotsa couples grinding closely like there’s no tomorrow. Now I understand why the Carribeans / Africans are blessed with such voluptuous bums.
For many, carnival is just another good excuse to drink and party from noon to late. There were 39 sound systems (DJs with their clusters of loudspeakers) set up at various spots around Notting Hill this year. You can move from one spot to the next depending on your music likings. Besides the variety of beer and spirits on sale, there’s also lotsa weed to sample – especially near the Reggae-style sound systems.
The Carribeans are hardcore drinkers – drinking rum & hard liquor neat from the bottle. Beer were mostly for the younger crowd, whites and tourists. I was totally sober during the 2 days – mainly because I was alone and without my usual party kakis, and to avoid the looong queues for the toilets. It’s times like these that being a man helps when you can pee anywhere.
Being THE biggest street carnival in Europe, it attracts crowds up to millions. So it’s people everywhere and plenty of snaking queues to food stalls, toilets and bank machines. There were heaps of food stalls, offering mostly jerk chicken (BBQ chicken in special sauce) – spewing out heaps of smoke and sweet burning smell of meat into the atmosphere.
The ugly scene of carnival can be seen at every street – rubbish from food packages, beer cans & bottles etc left on sidewalks, doorsteps of shops and houses and any flat surfaces available.
With any great congregation of drunk people in a contained area, you will also end up with unruliness with fights, stabbings and even shootings. The police were out in full force; every nook and cranny were manned with serious looking Bobbies (and not surprisingly were mainly white people).
So was the weekend worth it? Personally do go if you are keen to soak up the colours and music of Carribean-style carnival. Don’t come if you hate crowds, loud thumping music, public displays of people gyrating together and unsightful public cleanliness.
Definitely would return with gila friends to party and leave my camera behind. Do miss my friends whom I had a blast with at Rainforest Music Festival this year at such an event. Long live carnival!
Do check out more pictures from Notting Hill Carnival in my Flickr photo album.