Since the end of Notting Hill Carnival 2011 I have been approached for my view on Carnival this year. A friend of mine commented, “Trinidad have curfew, now Notting Hill Carnival have 6.30 curfew!” I was on the road with Pan Nectar and left them to find Cocoyea; people are giving me their feedback every day. So this is what I saw.
At 6.30pm the police demanded that ALL music was switched off on the carnival route. I witnessed mayhem. I saw South Connections and Inspiration Arts taken off the route, and Nostalgia told to stop beating pan and move on. The policy was no music at all after 6.30pm! This was what the carnival organisers and leaders of the associations had agreed to with the police when they threatened with Carnival being cancelled.
There was mayhem when masquerade bands and sound trucks were sent off the route. Elderly men and women, some children, and young women in skimpy costumes, were made to walk to their transport points, which were away from the route. Most mas bands, their bandleaders and masqueraders do not come from the Notting Hill area, and some were lost, confused and distressed; they only know their way around the route, when they have their band to follow. They were forced to find their way back to their transport points, which are all over the carnival area. One person told me that women in costumes were met by sexual comments as they wandered through the streets; the safety of masqueraders was not considered in this strategy. With that in mind, someone said that playing mas in a band was how she chose to participate safely in Carnival.
Band leaders were totally unprepared for the diversion of the music trucks away from the route. They had not organised transportation for their masqueraders; they couldn’t. Wherever the music stopped, that was it: the bands were taken off the route. This was regardless of where their transport home was located.
My view is that treatment of the mas bands and masqueraders at Notting Hill Carnival was disgraceful. The current leadership of Notting Hill Carnival and its associations lack courage to stand up for carnival culture. They misread the power they had in this 2011 Carnival season. After the riots, the police and government in Britain - for the first time in the history of Notting Hill Carnival - said they wanted it to succeed. Why? Because the Olympics are coming next year. They already had a bad image internationally, after the August riots, and it would be a PR disaster if they admitted that they feared more riots and had to cancel the Notting Hill Carnival. They themselves admit, finally, that our creation, Notting Hill Carnival, attracts international visitors, the global media and generates fantastic amounts of money. This was the time to demand what we want to make the carnival better; our leaders let us down. Instead, mas bands and steelbands were treated like unwanted relatives. Any violence at Notting Hill Carnival does not stem from the masquerade bands and steel bands, but we, as usual, paid the price.
The positives, though, were that there were fewer barriers around the route, giving a more natural carnival atmosphere. There was the best provision of toilets (Portaloos) I have ever known at Carnival – though this may not be repeated next year, as I hear that all the Portaloos in the country will be in use at the Olympics. The main magnets for potential violence at Notting Hill Carnival were removed this year, with the non-appearance of the Rampage and KCC static sound systems. The violence at was reduced to one stabbing over the two days, which is less than occurs in one normal night in London or New York. Before 6.30pm, the police were behaving like human beings and went on a charm offensive. The crowds showed their support and sympathy for the police after their under-resourced efforts during the riots. But after 6.30pm, the police turned back into monosyllabic Robocops. We must demand intelligent and culturally aware policing of Carnival.
There have to be better arrangements for music at Notting Hill Carnival. 8pm is a good finish time. Most mas bands want to go home by then. Let the sound trucks and steel bands play music until they leave the route, bringing crowds behind them and draining the centre of Carnival of people. In the 1980s, the carnival organisers and police agreed that this was the best strategy. They called it the "Pied Piper" method.
Our carnival leaders must fight to improve the Notting Hill Carnival for masqueraders, steel bands and mas spectators, by erecting £1 viewing stands with seats and bleachers at different points along the Carnival route. Erect the temporary viewing stands either side of the judging point, at ‘Trini Hill’, ‘Grenada Corner’ and other suitable points along the carnival route.
I say to our Carnival leadership, don’t get browbeaten by the authorities. They need us now more than ever; know your strength, and stand firm for your culture. Next carnival, I plan to tell my friends to bring some bottle and spoon and iron, to form a rhythm section so we can chip and jam our way home. No music at carnival? Dey mad!
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