This year Notting Hill Carnival celebrated its 53rd anniversary, whereby over a million people came together in W11 for the largest street festival in Europe. Over the Bank Holiday weekend thousands of floats, sound systems and bottles of rum are consumed in a cumulative celebration of Caribbean culture. In the midst of the euphoric atmosphere, it’s easy to forget the foundations of the festival, and what exactly it represents.
In the 1950s, workers from Jamaica, Trinidad, St Lucia and other Caribbean islands were encouraged to immigrate to the UK, in an attempt to rebuild the country in it’s post-Second World War state. The most notorious event from this era was the arrival of SS Empire Windrush, in 1948, an event which has a remained a symbol to this day. During this time, much of the West Indian community resided in areas such as Brixton and Notting Hill. This areas quickly became overcrowded, and home to an area riddled with racial tensions and social unease. Before North Kensington became home to multi-million pound estates, and backdrop to ITV’s Made In Chelsea, it was one of least developed borough’s of London – and a melting pot of slum housing, poverty and crime.
On 29th August 1958, the argument of mixed-race couple Majbritt Morrison and Raymond Morrison became the catalyst for a series of racially motivated attacks in the area, known as the 1958 Race Riots. The couple – of Swedish and Jamaican heritage – found themselves arguing outside Latimer Road station. Amidst the commotion, they were approached and attacked by a group of young, white male nationalists whom identified themselves as Teddy Boys. The Teddy Boys were known for their condemnation of Caribbean immigration to the area, as well as against interracial relationships. The following evening, hundreds of members of this group took to the streets of Notting Hill, and carried out a number of targeted attacks on the homes of Black British residents using homemade firebombs. The Race Riots lasted almost a week, and tore apart the area.
These events were the culmination of the tensions over the previous decade. Though they were not the end to the racism against the West Indian community, they were certainly a turning point, highlighting that change was now imperative. Just 5 months after the riots, Trinidadian Human Right’s activist Claudia Jones founded and hosted the first ‘Caribbean Carnival’ at St Pancras Town Hall, in an attempt to bridge the cultural divide between the communities of West London through a celebration of their own culture. In 1966, community activist Rhaune Laslett took the idea outdoors and Notting Hill Carnival was born.
One of the notable traditions of Notting Hill, is within the notorious sound systems. Each “sound” belongs to a different crew, and each crew has typically been established since the early 70s. One of the biggest sound systems in the UK is Mangrove Sound, formally known as Volcano Sound, are the collective inclusive of Mangrove Mas, Mangrove Steel Band – who are the largest Steel Band to come of the UK. Mangrove are known for blasting classic dancehall sounds, cut with high tempo soca.
This year Red Bull hosted a series of events in collaboration with Mangrove, including a Steel Pan workshop, a Carnival ‘Glo-up’ workshop and a Carnival Costuming workshop – all leading up the main event; the Red Bull X Mangrove Truck/Sound System.
Those who pioneered this celebration never had financial goals. Notting Hill Carnival, was, and is about keeping West Indian culture alive and well. It is about reaffirming that the Black British community played a huge part in building and shaping the country that Britain is today. But above all, it demonstrates the impact of London’s diversity; that when people of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities come together in unity, with no other motive other than to celebrate life – something beautiful happens, something that can’t always be described in words. Red Bull invited me down to capture the weekend through my lens. @iilaydamac