Notting Hill Carnival has been taking place on the August bank holiday weekend for 32 years. It began as an initiative by black immigrants from the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad where the carnival tradition is strong, and established locals of Notting Hill. Many were facing racism, unemployment and poor housing.
In Trinidad, during the days of slavery, black people were forbidden to play musical instruments or wear costumes except during an imported European carnival six weeks before Easter. This provided a rare opportunity to express feelings about slave masters and the art of costume making quickly developed.
The five disciplines of carnival are mas’ (costumes – abbreviated from masquerade), steel bands, calypso, soca and static sound systems, which all play their part in the two-day festival, itself the climax of a month-long round of dances, costume galas and steel band competitions. By carnival weekend there is a definite mood for a party. Bank holiday weekend will see just that.
One of the most important factors of the Notting Hill Carnival is that it is a community-based event. Consequently, budgets are low, resulting in ingenious use of materials by the designers and builders of the floats. Bamboo canes are chromed, tinsel garlands appliquÃ©d and adhesive shapes added to basic frameworks.
In Trinidad and Tobago international designers are invited (and paid) to help with the festival floats. Notting Hill probably relies more on people giving up evenings and weekends to design and produce their creations, with a couple of final weekends spent frantically dressing the rented flat-bed lorries employed for the parade. A huge range of fabrics are employed as one of the cheapest and most effective ways of covering large areas. Bright colours are definitely the flavour of the day.
But it is not all about floats. As well as bearing the float designs, each lorry is likely to contain a band or sound system and half a dozen dancing performers. Lack of space will result in many of these dancing on the roof of their truck.
The enthusiasm of the performers can outshine the designs on show – but there will be enough flamboyance to bring a smile to the face of even the hardest to please designer.