Notting Hill Carnival Makes West London Come Alive Yearly!
Notting Hill Carnival takes place in London, on the last weekend in August, annually since 1964. Notting Hill Carnival was started mostly by London’s immigrants from the Caribbean islands, particularly of Trinidadian descent. Back in the 1950s and 60s, these black immigrants were facing harsh racism: limited job opportunities and poor housing conditions were the norm. They decided to create a festival in the style so synonymous with the Caribbean, to bring people together after the race riots of the 1950’s. What began as a small party now has up to two million revelers every August Bank Holiday weekend and got a name, Notting Hill Carnival. These immigrants were successfully able to change people’s opinion of the Notting Hill area of west London – what was once considered dangerous and vulgar but is now one of the most fashionable districts in London.
Notting Hill Carnival is now such a huge festival that require a whole year to plan and needs thousands of people to bring it all together for the two day carnival. Every year the streets of West London come alive, with the sounds and smells of Europe’s biggest street festival. Twenty miles of vibrant colourful costumes surround over 40 static sound systems, hundreds of Caribbean food stalls,(while you are there do not miss visting Mama’s Jerk Station, on the corner of Portobello Rd and Oxford Gardens) over 40,000 volunteers and over 1 million Notting Hill carnival revellers.
These are the main disciplines that make up the Notting Hill Carnival:
- Mas’ (from costume/masquerade)
- Steelband – also known as “Pan” will be filling the streets of Notting Hill with their wonderful melodic sounds throughout the Bank Holiday weekend. Steelband came from the “Tambu Bamboo” band from Trinidad in the early 1030s. Trinidadians used to beat the bamboo and sing and by using some creative means, began to create different tones. This led to the use of oil drums and in a short space of time the Steelband was born.
- Calypso (political, social and satirical commentary, set to music) – The Origin of calypso can be traced back to the arrival of the first enslaved Africans brought to work in the sugar plantations of Trinidad. Forbidden to talk to each other, and robbed of all links to family and home, the enslaved Africans began to sing. They used calypso, which can be traced back to West African Kaiso, as a means of communication and to mock the slave masters. These songs, usually led by one individual called a Griot, helped to unite the slaves. Calypso singing competitions, held annually at Carnival time, grew in popularity after the abolition of slavery by the British in the 1830s. The Griot later became known as the Chantuelle and today as the Calypsonian.
- Soca (the traditional music of Carnival, a fusion of Soul and Calypso) – Like calypso, soca was used for both social commentary and risqué humor, though the initial wave of soca acts eschewed the former. Lord Shorty was disillusioned with the genre by the 1980s because soca was being used to express courtships and sexual interests. Like all things related to sexual freedom, it became embraced because of its ability to reflect what people were thinking and their desires in a society that was sexually repressed.Soca music became an expression of sexuality through metaphors in the West Indies. Soon after, Shorty moved to the Piparo forest, converted to the Rastafari movement and changed his name to Ras Shorty I. There, he created a fusion of Reggae and gospel music called jamooin the late 1980s.In the 1990s and now the new century Soca has evolved into a blend of musical styles.
- Static Sound Systems – over 40 sound systems positioned around the Notting Hill Carnival area provide the perfect setting for DJ’s to strut their stuff. From Latin jazz, reggae and garage to hip hop and drum “n” bass. Samba Samba: Samba is a type of music and dance developed from the musical traditions of the enslaved Africans of Brazil. Samba originated in the north of Brazil and was radically developed in Rio at the turn of the century. Now you can hear the Samba beat in London and throughout the world.
When To Attend The Notting Hill Carnival?
Notting Hill Carnival always takes place during the last weekend in August, on the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.
The first day of the carnival (Sunday) is traditionally Children’s Day, with the parade and events aimed at the whole family.
The 2nd day (Monday) is for all ages to dance in the streets. The Notting Hill Carnival parade floats keep moving through the streets till about 9pm and then you can move on to the local clubs and bars. Pumping sound systems around the parade route vie for your attention. As well as music and dancing, authentic Caribbean cuisine is available, with jerk chicken, curries, and Jamaican patties at the top of the menu.
And what makes things great is the fact that it is free to attend the Notting Hill Carnival, just be prepared for the crowds.
Guiding Tips To Make Your Notting Hill Carnival Memorable
If this is going to be your first time to attend the Notting Hill Carnival, be aware this is the biggest street carnival in Europe and probably still bigger than other festivals around the world. Therefore, here is what you need to know:
Do not bother with the subways train (tube) map
During Notting Hill Carnival, frequently there are temporarily shut downs of underground stations to avoid congestion. Therefore, if you want to avoid wandering the streets of West London for hours, don’t get yourself into one of these lockdowns. Plan your journey home in advance using Transport for London’s Journey Planner. And don’t even think about driving.
High heels? Not at the Notting Hill Carnival
You’ll be on your feet all day, so comfort is key. Think closed-toe flats (flipflops will probably break and aren’t the best for wading through rubbish at the end of the day). But don’t forget, this is carnival! Leave the pastels in the wardrobe and bring out the colour. Accessorise with flags, whistles, crazy hats… anything goes.
Bring your Notting Hill Carnival essentials with you
Tissue in case the portaloo has run out? Check. Wet wipes for your post-jerk chicken fingers? Check. Bottle of water to hydrate after wild dancing? Check. Carnival route map so you can avoid barricaded roads? Check. Sunscreen and sunglasses for the suitably Caribbean-style sunshine? Check. Stress-free carnival: sorted.
Yep…Notting Hill Carnival also fits to be called a family holiday
Some people people shy away from taking their families to Notting Hill Carnival, but plenty do and have a fantastic day. If you go early on Sunday, which is Family Day and when the children’s groups parade – it’s quieter and more relaxed than Monday. If possible, leave the pram at home but do have enough adults to carry each toddler through the crowds and when they get tired. Bring earplugs just in case.
Plan for a meeting place
Finding people at Notting Hill Carnival can be a horrible task to take, with road closures and the streets full of partying people. Try to meet your friends elsewhere and travel in together – and take your mobile phones, as you may get separated in the crowd or find yourself swept into the parade!
Find a good spot to take photos
If you want to get good photos during the Notting Hill carnival, location is everything. Stand by the judges’ platform and you’ll see the groups really pull out all the stops, but for a more informal, interactive vibe, bagsy a front-row spot along the main route. There are always lively sections and quieter spots so it is possible to find the right place for you.
Don’t forget the soundsystems
On your first Notting Hill Carnival visit it’s easy to think this carnival is all about the parade, and never leave the route. But if you stroll down the side streets you’ll find a whole other side to carnival: the soundsystems. Blasting out everything from soca, reggae and calypso to dance, house and dub, these pop-up parties each have their own USP – so do your research beforehand and arrive early as some soundsystems, like carnival king Norman Jay’s annual Good Times, are so popular there’s crowd control.
Prepare your taste buds for Caribbean food
There’s nothing quite like the smell of Notting Hill Carnival. That is no other than the wonderful aromas of traditional Caribbean food. The Notting Hill Carnival provides the perfect introduction to jerk chicken, rice and peas and rum punch as well as the odd taste of other exotic cuisines. Bring a healthy appetite along to Carnival, as there are patties, curries, jerk chicken and fried plantain from the street stalls to sink your teeth into. If you love Chicken Wings check out Wicked Wings
Stay safe while at the Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival is a lively, fun and welcoming festival, but just like any other big festival, staying aware and alert should be on your priority list. Avoid pickpockets by keeping your valuables out of sight and out of easy reach. If you can, steer clear of congested streets or wait until the blockage has cleared. And if you have any worries, inform a police officer – you’re never far from one at Notting Hill Carnival.
Party till dawn
If your feet haven’t given up on you, continue the festivities at one of the many Notting Hill Carnival after parties in the area and across London. Keep an eye out on event listings to find out what’s going on. And book the next day off work if you can!
How To Get To The Notting Hill Carnival
London Buses usually operate additional buses to serve the Notting Hill Carnival. Buses, however, will not enter the Carnival area from the first bus on Sunday morning until the first bus on Tuesday morning.
To the south of the Notting Hill Carnival area buses start from Notting Hill Gate and to the North of the Carnival area buses run from the Prince of Wales in Harrow Road.
Full details of the bus route changes can be found in the special transport leaflet available from London Underground Stations.
Bus stops within or adjacent to the area during the Notting Hill Carnival always carry displays about diversions or disruptions.
However, it is recommend you do the following:
Allow extra time for your journey, as public transport will be well used;
Remember night buses will also be affected – the N7, N18, N28, N31 and N52 will be diverted or disrupted owing to road closures in the Notting Hill Carnival area.
By Subway Train (Tube)
Ladbroke Grove: Station is closed on Notting Hill Carnival Sunday and Carnival Monday
Latimer Road: On Carnival Sunday and Monday the station closes at 11.30pm.
Notting Hill Gate: exit only between 12:00 to 19:00 . Circle and District line trains do not stop at this station between 12:00 and 19:00. There is no interchange between Central and Circle/ District lines
Royal Oak: exit only between 11:00 and 18:00 and the station closes on both days at 18:00.
After 6pm the station closes and the Hammersmith and City line does not stop at this station.
Westbourne Park: On Carnival Sunday and Monday the station be exit only between 11am and 6pm. The station closes at 11.30pm.
Bayswater: Open on Carnival Sunday and Monday.
Queensway: Open on Carnival Sunday and Monday.
Paddington: It may be advisable to use this station instead of Notting Hill Gate/Royal Oak as both of these stations have diversions.
Other stations: Other stations near to the Notting Hill Carnival are High Street Kensington, Holland Park and Queens Park.
Please note, this information may change year after year depending on city plans)
Expect a sea of colour as amazing floats and costumed performers wind their way through the streets of London. Whether you want to join in the fun or simply watch the crowds go by, don’t miss the chance to be part of one of London’s biggest and best annual events, the Notting Hill Carnival. Experience the Caribbean culture without having to fly to the Caribbeans!
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