In May we got the news so many of us had been dreading: for the first time in its 54-plus-year history, the Notting Hill Carnival had officially been cancelled. It did not come as a surprise; the organisers had held off on the announcement in the hope that the situation might improve, leaving many to speculate on when, not whether, the event would be called off. In the end, it was a matter of public safety. A statement was released confirming the August bank holiday festival would not be going ahead.
But it looks like ‘cancelled’ wasn’t the right word after all. Behind the scenes, the community have pulled together to ensure Carnival will still be represented on the August bank holiday weekend with a three-day online festival. With a mix of pre-recorded and live-streamed performances, you can bring the steel bands, the costumes, soundsystems, mas bands, calypso and soca into your home. The digital Carnival will be split into different ‘channels’ on different days, representing the parade, the main stage and the soundsystems, with time set aside on Saturday for discussions on ‘Carnival Culture’. There’ll be live-streamed DJ sets from King Tubby’s and Rampage soundsystems and steelpan from past Panorama champions the Ebony and Mangrove steel bands. Spotify have dedicated a whole microsite to the weekend, so you’ll never be stuck for a Carnival playlist.
Notting Hill Carnival’s executive director, Matthew Phillip, who has been attending the event since he was a child, said in a statement that, ‘We may not be able to celebrate together on the streets as usual, but we can all come together to celebrate one of the UK’s great cultural events online.’
Instead of this being a devastating fallow year for Carnival, its organisers want us to see it as an opportunity for people to educate themselves on the event’s history. It’s a chance to celebrate the pioneers: people like Leslie Palmer, who spent the 1970s carting speakers through Notting Hill so he could introduce a proper soundsystem culture to the event. Or Clary Salandy, who designs the show-stealing, ostentatious costumes of the Mahogany group, which define the parade each year.
Carnival is a community-powered machine, made up of so many moving parts that often go unnoticed. For most of us, the weekend flashes past in a Red Stripe haze. Before you know it, you’re back in bed with a neon whistle around your neck and a dull buzz in your ears. But every Carnival is a year-round project built on the work of hundreds of dedicated volunteers. For 2020, the online version is a way to take stock of just how much is involved, and how much we owe to the people who make it happen.
Find the full guide to Notting Hill Carnival Saturday August 29-Monday August 31 online here.
Shy FX, Toddla T and The Heatwave tell us their favourite Notting Hill Carnival memories.
Find out what else is happening in London this August.