Car-sprayers and scrap-dealers, down-and-outs and refugees from bombs and the law – railway arches have been a gritty part of Britain’s urban landscape for nearly two centuries, put to a wide variety of unglamorous uses. But in SW9, just across Coldharbour Lane from Loughborough Junction station, one set of arches has been transformed into a welcoming oasis of art, food, music and mas. It’s called C.A.F.E. and is home to Sunshine International Arts (SiA), run by renowned Trinidadian mas designer Ray Mahabir.
C.A.F.E. stands for Carnival – Arts – Food – Empowerment, which is a lot to squeeze into a railway arch. When SN visited, on Sunday 6th May, the weather had all the cold, wet, grey hallmarks of an English summer, which did little to enhance the view down the Dickensian cobbled alleyway that leads to SiA’s front door. It’s conveniently close to the station entrance and the stop for the no 35, 45, 345 and P4 buses, but could Carnival arts transcend the Brixton grime, I wondered?
Once through the smart new set of wooden doors, any lingering doubts were dispelled by the music, the carnival décor on the white walls and the reunions with longtime friends, not to mention the Trini Sunday lunch aromas. The café itself is straight ahead, with beautiful artworks on the walls. To the left, there is a gallery/exhibition space, lined with fascinating and well-researched displays on the ‘ole mas’ traditional costumes of Trinidad Carnival. It’s well worth stopping by just to look at these – I certainly never knew there were so many varieties of sailor, for example, each with a special set of moves/dance steps. The space to the right can be used for making costumes, but every other Sunday that’s where you can fill up on chicken and roti and macaroni pie. An adjacent arch serves as SiA’s main storage and mas construction area.
C.A.F.E. is an imaginative and attractive space that is sure to become a meeting point for south London’s carnival arts community. It can be found at 209A Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8RU and is open 09.00 to 15.00 Tuesday to Saturday (lunch from 12.00 to 15.00). Every two weeks the doors are thrown open for Sunday family lunch 11.30–15.30, but be sure to call first on 07881 571743, or check SiA’s website, www.sunshineiarts.co.uk.