As the Notting Hill Carnival August bank holiday weekend extravaganza approaches, we speak to local characters that help bring London’s biggest street party to life
Nikisha Reyes is a Calypso and Soca musician and regular performer at the London Calypso Tent at Carnival each year
What are you most excited about for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival?
I am very much looking forward to Carnival EXPO on the 8 and 9 of August, which aims to showcase all forms of Carnival art portrayed in all regions of the world. I will be performing on both days with a live band. Also I am supporting one of my favourite Calypsonians, the legendary David Rudder on 22 August. Then there’s the Annual Calypso competition held by the Association of British Calypsonians, which runs for five nights, where I will be defending my title as the Groovy Soca Monarch on the 27 August, and will aim to win the Calypso Monarch title as well; I missed it by three points last year.
What direction would you like to see Calypso and Soca take in the future?
I would like to see Calypso music embraced by more young artists, to sing not just about politics, but other inviting topics that can inspire and entertain a variety of audiences. I would love for Calypso to make a permanent impact on the music industry in the way that reggae has done, and to finally be categorised as a recognised Caribbean genre internationally. As for Soca music, I think as Soca continues to grow and evolve, the next step would be to see it entering the charts more frequently and played a lot more on mainstream stations, outside of the Carnival seasons.
What are your top Carnival tips?
- Bring your fun friends; friends that enjoy loud music, don’t mind walking for long hours and love to party!
- Play Mas. Join a Carnival Band if you can afford it. It’s worth the money if it’s your first time, you get additional security and some bands offer free drinks. You will have loads of people around to assist and answer any questions you may have; and selfies in Carnival costumes are just a bonus.
- Most importantly, wear comfortable shoes to fully enjoy your carnival experience. All that chippin, wining, wukkin and jammin ‘down the road’ for hours… You owe it to your feet!
Fiona Hawthorne, a Notting Hill local and artist, has been involved with Carnival for more than a decade
How did you first get involved with the Notting Hill Carnival?
About 15 years ago, when my children were in school, I began to realise they had no involvement in Notting Hill Carnival. I had been doing computer art with local schools and I found that none of the schools I worked with were involved either. So, I joined a few parents and teachers to make our own carnival float. While I loved all of the big, extravagant costumes that people had, I thought ‘why don’t we just have the children parading their art?’ We printed the art on coloured, laminated paper and put them on big sticks. It was a desire to see children’s art in Carnival, albeit in the same Caribbean style, and it grew from there. It’s called Fox Carnival Masquerade Band now because it started in a school. Personally I think if you live in Notting Hill, it’s inexcusable to go away for the weekend. You live in Notting Hill and are a carnivalist, or you don’t live in Notting Hill.
Who are the unsung heroes of Carnival?
There are some great people involved, but I will say I know there are a lot of women behind the scenes not being recognised who work very hard with the costumes, the masquerade and steel bands, teachers and the sound systems. People should grow up knowing we have a need to do this thing that is Carnival. On this day, you let go in a way that you can’t do in a nightclub, you only get it when you claim the streets at Carnival.
- What are your top Carnival tips?
Don’t be put off by reports of crime – there is actually very little crime for the size of the event. Remember people are going there to party and have fun
- Go with the spirit of letting carnival flow. If you see a band that you really like, follow it. If you see a sound system you like, stop and dance at it
- Bring a rain poncho. And don’t forget a camera. There are great things to photograph, so be ready to capture it
To find out more about Fox Carnival Band visit foxcarnival.com
Clary Salandyis a costume designer and founder of the Notting Hill Carnival group Mahogany, which showcases some of the best outfits at the parade each year
Why is Carnival important to you?
The Notting Hill Carnival is the most important thing that we do. It is the biggest showcase of our design ability. We work with the community to produce it. Young people come in and we are able to work together to do this as a community, and that’s a very important message for the world. When you come and see something that is worthy of being in the Olympics opening ceremony, as some of our things have been, that’s a very important message, too, for young people – that Carnival can be the key to their career, as it was to me.
Is there a particular costume you’ve designed for Carnival that stays in your mind?
We made an elephant once, and people looked at it and cried. And we were like, ‘it’s only a piece of cloth!’ but it was just so inspiring to see how it moved… It just moved them to tears. We will work within our style and shapes because they are our brushstrokes. You don’t look at a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh and say ‘oh he painted them the same style as the other one’, you’re they have! You can see it straight away. We want people to recognise that we also have our own brushstrokes.
What’s your fondest Carnival memory?
When my daughter was seven, we put her in a big costume. I was sending her away to Trinidad because it was too difficult to manage the band and her. This year she threw a fit so I didn’t send her. She came down the street in this outfit and just danced. A crowd just formed around this little seven year old! This was about 1995. Another time, there was a great friend of ours that died just before Carnival but we knew he was there. We put a big poster of him on the truck so the whole time we’re dancing he’s with us. So it’s just like a tribute to them.
Clary Salandy is the founder of Mahogany carnival group and is Artistic Director of the UK Centre for Carnival Arts, find out more at carnivalarts.org.uk
Ted Lavender aka Ted@theControls, age 16, first DJ’d at Carnival in when he was just 12 years old
How did you get into DJing?
Originally it started when my sister bought me some software for my computer. I just put a mix out on Facebook, and one of my dad’s friends got in touch to ask if I wanted to do a festival – Endorse It In Dorset – a sort of punk and reggae festival. I was quite nervous, I’d bought my decks just before to practice. Ever since that it’s been a non-stop love of reggae.
What’s your earliest memory of Carnival?
It’s not so much a memory, but I’ve been told about my mum and dad frantically running around after realising they’d lost me, and then seeing me up on the stage on a DJ’s shoulders. That was at Sancho Panza. They knew the DJ, so they weren’t too worried after that.
How did you come up with your DJ name?
There’s a famous reggae artist called Mikey Dread, and he goes under the name of Dread at the Controls, so we thought it’d be quite a good play on words.
What do you play to get the crowd going at Carnival?
I’d say my favourite Carnival song is ‘I can’t see (Ba Ba Ri BA)’ by Winston Francis and Dennis Alcapone.
Ray Mahabir is Artistic Director of Sunshine International Arts, a creative carnival group behind some of the fantastic costumes at Notting Hill Carnival
What does Sunshine International Arts do?
Sunshine has been involved with Notting Hill Carnival for the past seven years. The whole concept is to introduce Carnival to new audiences, and introduce new people to the artform and culture. I have costume workshops where people learn how to make costumes and take part.
How did you first get involved?
I’m involved with Carnival because I’m a Trinidadian and Carnival is part of our heritage; it’s our main festival. I’ve been living in Brixton for 16 years and I was a designer for another carnival group for nine years and decided I wanted to do stuff on my own.
What are you doing for this year’s show?
I’m not the regular sort of Carnival band. I’m a ‘masque man’ – masque, short for masquerade – and I like to do big costumes. My style is carnival couture; it’s fashion but it’s still carnival. The traditional Trinidad costume is a sailor costume but it’s heavily decorated. My theme this year is called ‘Sea of Humanity’. It’s an aqua-water concept; it’s modern and feathery but is a little more elaborate.
Why do you think Notting Hill Carnival still holds significance?
For a lot of the Caribbean people, it’s a part of our heritage. A lot of young people that take part in my band are probably African-British or Caribbean-British but they all have some sort of roots and they want to know part of their history.
What’s your top Carnival tip?
My top tip is to do what makes you happy: some people like alcohol; my mature people like to rest; my young people just want to party the whole day.