From the beginning of carnival there has been mas. Masquerade is a way of representing a story, often through historical or allegorical figures. Different characters appear in carnivals around the world, each having a local and, perhaps, political relevance. In Caribbean carnivals, from which Notting Hill Carnival was originally conceived, these have now largely been replaced with fantasy presentations.
Notting Hill has adopted this latter tradition, where fantastic, ornate costumes are worn with flourish and pride, moving their way down the streets in bands of shimmering colours, beads, feathers and sequins. Each band has a theme, and usually the masqueraders are divided into several sections, each of which is meant to portray a different aspect of that central idea.
On the Sunday, officially Children’s Day, some adult groups also play ‘dutty mas’ (dirty mas), where the participants wear matching T-shirts and cover themselves in mud, chocolate or paint. It’s a custom that goes back to the early days of carnival, one that appears in other traditional festivals around the world, and strangely enough is seen as a cleansing or purifying ritual – though if you smear a police officer with chocolate you might have difficulty persuading him of that!
When you’re a spectator, being pinned behind barriers can lose its appeal after a few hours, particularly when the sun is beating down or the rain soaks you to the skin. But when you’re ‘playing mas’ you truly have the freedom of the road, and once the music starts the weather just doesn’t matter. There is, quite simply, no better way to enjoy carnival than to be a participant. All you have to do is choose your band – there are over 50 – sign up for your costume, and get ready to enjoy a unique, unforgettable experience on carnival day.
For a full list of Mas bands taking part in this year's Notting Hill carnival visit - www.socanews.com/masbands