Carnival is my life and I literally spend 11 months of the year waiting for this weekend. For me carnival fever starts from the first pre-Trinidad carnival warm up playlist – all the way in February – and lasts to the end of summer. My devotion to Soca and everything bacchanal related culminates and terminates with Notting Hill Carnival. After Notting Hill Carnival, Soca raves become few and thin, the nights gets colder and darker, people get meaner and the energy gets sadder. So before winter starts and my life changes I have to exert all my summer soca energy in those 4 days.
Carnival weekend for me always starts with Bacchanal/ Carnival Friday and a live DJ set from the one and only soca phenomenon aka ‘DJ Private Ryan’. His soca playlists are the soundtracks to my life, they’ve gotten me through breakups, revision, coursework and endless journeys. Bacchanal Friday is the closest I’m getting to Soca Brainwash until Trinidad 2020, so my attendance is compulsory. The atmosphere was everything I needed though, slightly ruined by a DJ who played one too may joke cheesy Caucasian songs for my liking, but DJ Private Ryan was life so I pulled through. My whines were fluid, my tic tocked effectively and my bampsee was doing bits.
As the name suggest, Saturday was a just vibes day. I decided to skip raving and go to free day rave called ‘Just Vibes’, that took place outside Southbank Centre. It wasn’t a “turn up” environment and focused more on the cultural aspects of carnival. Also the crowd wasn’t slightly more mature than I’m accustomed to, but the scene was picturesque. For me seeing waves of Caribbean flags, in front of a backdrop of the iconic London architecture (e.g. London Eye) during sunset was everything I need. Most people are aware of the history regarding Notting Hill Carnival, so to be in an authentically Black British crowd, listening to Soca, in a year that exposed the Windrush scandal with the House of Parliament in the background, is everything a self-confessed “Ratchet Intellectual” requires.
My actual carnival experience opened with J’ouvert, which I played with ‘Chocolate Nation’. The idea of being dancing to soca while simultaneously throwing and being covered in chocolate, resonated me in every way. Shocking this was my first time playing mas and not storming and freestyling on the road. How unfortunate that the one time I decide to not storm is the day the UK throws a rain storm in my path. Despite the absolute torrential rain, it failed to dampen the spirits of us masqueraders, as echos of the lyrics “How did you expect to come to a wet fete and expect to not get wet” travelled round the street parade. Black people hate to get wet unless it’s for carnival. Honestly between the rain, chocolate milk and my lash extensions there were times where I couldn’t see and I called do was dance. It was a blind bruk out and I loved every second of it. There’s something incredibly liberating about capturing whine while being dashed with chocolate milk, paint and coloured powdered.
“We partying sun or rain, we don’t care what people say. Once the music hits me veins, so much power I can’t explain… we phenomenal “
The crowd was slightly smaller which I don’t mind because it meant there was no rushes/ stampedes and it freed up space for me to whine and drop it low. Playing with a band is so much fun, the aesthetics of the monocolour, striaght vibes and for once in my life not being chucked out of the masquerade was fun. We turned into judging corner dancing to “Phenomenal”, which was perfect coming together of song and situation – the Soca Gods definitely gave me powers.
The anticipation and excitement for carnival was ripe from the second I woke up. Although I met my friend in Stratford and carnival was literally on the other side of London, the atmosphere was pungent. People literally travel in from all over England to come to Notting Hill. The weather was better – not particularly warm but mild with no rain. The dancing and acrobatics was amazing; I saw people dance on moving truck tires; move like they had no vertebrate; and defy laws of gravity on sheer momentum and desire to hold the whine. That is carnival… that is my Notting Hill, this is what I know and love. I’m sure as a result, relationships ended prematurely, people were grounded and people didn’t have homes to go to, but c’est la vie/ c’est le carnival. Also your friend is not your friend if they don’t help you balance, while you’re dancing with someone. The costumes this years were amazing, the level of bedazzle, embellishment and “skin-out” was awe-inspiring. Also the diverse shapes and size in the cos and bring colours on melanin was lit. Typical scenes of people dancing with police officers, females being daggered on the floor and group pictures made it feel like home. Before I retire from misbehaviour I will head top and split in the middle on the Ladbrooke Grove bus stop, opposite the chicken shop. It is my destiny, the same way it was Harry Potters destiny to kill Voldermolt and Luke’s destiny to bring the force back from the dark side. My story doesn’t end until I achieve that level of no behaviour.
Both the two days of carnival were amazing. Monday was utterly amazing and honestly it felt like a movie, but Sunday was definitely my favourite day. I don’t know if it was because it was the first time I played mas or because the atmosphere was absolutely soul replenishing and nutritional. For me carnival is all about the carefree vibe, the wickedest behaviour and people “carrying on bad”. I feel like Sunday’s rain washed away all the negative, un-rhythmic and unseasoned individuals, who frequent carnival only to pacify their need to be “urban”. Furthermore Monday’s carnival is filled with too many social media “influencers” there to just stand, stunt and take pictures or hosted by brands trying to co-opt the meaning and cultural significance of carnival. I could talk endlessly about the excess of police officers, but hey they have to inflate the budget to demonise carnival somehow. I just feel like on Sunday, everyone’s attitude, boujiness and high maintenance antics were left in their houses because “What do you come here for… bacchanal and water”.
If you’re interested in seeing any footage from my carnival experience, please check out my Instagram as my carnival instagram story is saved as a highlight on my page