(Originally published at OnePaper.com)
Regardless of where they occur, modern Carnival celebrations always end on a common note: people end up sharing delightful times and making memories within a different cultural reality. Historically, African celebrations were ‘piggybacked’ with the colonizer’s own religious observances as a way to maintain order and give the then-enslaved people a chance to ‘let off’ steam. The communing was tightly regulated so as not to foment rebellions, and the Cariso/Kaiso (Calypso) became the art form that enabled the transmission of news and social or political commentary. As its sparring was verbal rather than physical, the Kaiso (“kah-EE-so”) was preferred over the African Stick-fighting (Kalinda) music, which often led to property damage and human casualties. [Read more about stick-fighting and Kaiso in Peter Ridsdale’s mini-history of Calypso at Ice Records.]
In the year 1964, there was not a whole lot of opportunity for people of African descent who resided in London, England. High unemployment, racism and poverty appeared to be integral to the wearing of brown or black skin. Most of these Afro-Europeans were actually Afro-Caribbeans, immigrants from Caribbean colonial holdings of the Crown. At the same time the immigrants were eking out an existence, the scramble for limited social resources and jobs contributed to great tension and (often violent) confrontations between Blacks and Whites. In a show of self-determination, England’s Caribbean community mounted its own Carnival celebration as a way to demonstrate pride and cultural identity.
The growth of this annual extravaganza has not progressed without a certain amount of controversy. As Carnival celebrations often do, this Notting Hill jump-up tugs at the ripcord of propriety, with its loud music, African rhythms and deep sensuality. But no matter: over the years, both attendance and participation have continued upwards. Recent estimates have over 2 million revellers converging on London for the fete this past year. The official Notting Hill Carnival web site is now online, with additions being added constantly: Notting Hill Carnival page