Europe 31 – Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival (2)

Mas bands
To properly experience Carnival you’ve got to take in some of the mas bands that form the float parade, particularly during the “adults’ day” on Monday. Mas is short for “masquerade” and these costumed players are the cultural and historical backbone of Carnival. Their roots are firmly fixed in the Trinidad Carnival, and they are what uniquely prevent Notting Hill from turning into just another commercial street party.
The sound systems may occupy the central streets, but soca, calypso and pan are best experienced as the mas bands dance their way along the carnival’s route. The dancing is full-contact raunchy, the costumes are outrageous – feathered headgear, silver thongs and gold lame capes predominate – and there’s more flesh on display than you’ll see in a month on the Cote d’Azur, particularly within the Brazilian samba bands. Every year, hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds go into the creation of ever more elaborate and colourful costumes, and the competition for best Mas on the Road is fiercely contested. The winners are decided at the judging point on Great Western Road on the Monday. Connoisseurs will tell you that the mas bands must be seen in motion – the best way to watch the parades is to pick out a spot on one of the main runs, such as Ladbroke Grove, Kensal Road or Westbourne Grove. And though mas is definitely a wonderful spectacle to watch, the real spirit of Carnival is to participate rather than observe from the sidelines. Dancing your way through Carnival with a couple of hundred people behind
a float pumping out the sunny sounds of soca is an awesome way to spend the afternoon, and being in a band also means you avoid the crush on the pavements. If you don’t fancy donning an elaborate costume, you can shell out a tenner or so and join a T-shirt section of one of the bigger bands, which enables you to party with them all along the route without having to get to Notting Hill clad only in a spangly bikini and a pair of butterfly wings. The best of the T-shirt sections are run by Cocoyea and Poison UK, the latter teaming j up with the radio station BBC lXtra.
Sound systems and I live stages
The whirling costumes of the mas hands are just one part of Carnival a lot of people go as much for the sound system, or sounds, as for the parade. This all-Jamaican concept was introduced some twenty years ago, and there are now about fifty official sounds packed in and around the parade route – Time Out gives a rundown of playlists in their Carnival issue. They’re pretty easy to find.
First you hear the distant sound of a pumping bass line; as you get nearer, this is joined by shouts and whistles, and soon your insides start to vibrate as the monstrously deep bass frequencies shake the foundations of the nearby buildings.
There’s virtually no limit to the music that the sounds play; you can hear reggae, dancehall, dub, soca, soul, R&B, rap, hip-hop, uplifting house, hard house, disco, calypso and samba pumping out from the mountainous piles of speakers. Indeed, there are so many that agreeing which one to hang out at can be the biggest problem. Although sometimes painfully packed, All Saints Road has a great selection and a central location and it’s also within easy reach of St Luke’s Road and Powis Square, where you’ll find even more.
House music lovers should head for Wornington Road, off Goldborne Road, where the KCC crew rams the place solid all weekend, while the coolest kids hang out at Rampage, which strings across the canyon-like Colville Terrace and plays across-the- board black music, with a big helping of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. One of the longest running and most popular mnds is Norman Jay’s Good Times, which sets up at Southern Row, at the junction with Middle Row, off Kensal Road, playing rare groove, house and reggae for a very sunny, very huge
crowd.
Note that the massive live-music stage, one of the high points of carnival in previous years, were phased out in 2001 following ” incients” at the hip-hop stage. A smaller-scale “World Music” stage was reintroduced in 2003 at Powis Square, but it’s not exactly a buzzing scene.

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