Tens of thousands of Londoners head to Notting Hill Carnival every year to be wowed by its sights and soundsystems. But how much work does it take to be part of one of its iconic troupes or ‘bands’ of masquerade dancers? We asked a London masquerade troupe what it’s like behind the scenes and sequins.
RECOMMENDED: read our full Notting Hill Carnival guide
Azaria, Makesha and Simone Gairy-Newbolt and their childhood friend Barbie Munro have all been Carnival regulars since childhood. Now they run the Trinity Design Collective, combining their love of costume and colour with a deep connection to their Caribbean roots by putting together a Carnival troupe every year. Here’s how they do it.
The road to Notting Hill Carnival
‘Right now in our minds, we’re in 2016,’ says Azaria. ‘We’re already thinking about next year’s Carnival before this year’s Carnival.’ Because Makesha and Simone live in New York, the group uses social media to share ideas and themes during the autumn. They build a mood board of colours, prints, accessories and textures to form the basis of the group’s costumes.
The group brings their moodboard to life. Costume designs are sketched and Makesha and Simone leap into action on the streets of Manhattan: ‘We collect feathers, sequins, rhinestones, trims, gems and buttons as well as bras and waist-trainers,’ says Simone.
Trinity stick to bikini costumes, a style specific to Trinidad, and armed with their trusty glue gun – and plenty of soca on the stereo – they soon see silhouettes and costume details begin to take shape.
Every month, somewhere in the world, there are carnivals big and small taking place; where there’s Caribbean diaspora, there’s Carnival. But Trinidad in February is ‘the Mecca for carnival chasers,’ according to Simone. The year’s new soca releases hit the airwaves in time for Trinidad Carnival, which makes this the perfect time for Trinity to choose what tracks they’ll be trouping to come August.
This year the main contenders are ‘Circles’ by Kerwin Du Bois, ‘Ola’ by Olatunji and two songs by Machel Montano, the King of Soca. Montano won Road March at Trinidad this year for having his song ‘Like ah Boss’ played more than any other track.
‘Most bystanders don’t realise that Carnival bands are totally self-funded,’ says Barbie. Masqueraders buy costumes from bands to take part in the parade, so the Trinity collective need to make and sell enough to recruit a whole troupe of dancers.
The team prepare six costume prototypes for a photoshoot and band launch. They need models to show off the costumes and learn a soca dance routine for a launch show in London. ‘We cater for all body shapes: we want a good representation of all women,’ Azaria says. ‘Anyone can do Carnival, anyone at all. If your nan wants to try it out, she can come and join any time.’
‘It really is the experience of a lifetime,’’ says Simone. ‘For some people it is the first time in their lives they can really be free.’ Makesha adds that ‘There’s so much adrenaline, and a huge sense of achievement. When I see all the colours and smiles, and all our hard work, it’s all worth it.’
‘It’s really important for us to carry on our family traditions,’ says Azaria. ‘And there’s always a point in the day where the four of us all get together for a hug and an “I can’t believe we did it!” moment.’
‘It’s about connecting with our culture,’ says Barbie. ‘We’re Caribbean in a diaspora community; if we didn’t do this then something would be lost. Our culture would start to die out. It’s not business: it’s families and friends getting together to keep this going on.’
Find your Carnival afterparty
Who cares that summer’s nearly over when there’s still the Notting Hill Carnival to look forward to? Carnival traditionally takes place on the bank holiday weekend at the end of August, and its exotic outfits, banging music and strong Caribbean liquor make for a perfect party combination. For the full Carnival experience, check the warm-up events and afterparties that we’ve mapped out below, and if you're heading to the main procession, remember to consult our parade route map beforehand. RECOMMENDED: Read the full Notting Hill Carnival guide