Everyone knows about Notting Hill Carnival. Over a million revellers cram into the streets of west London over the August bank holiday. Pictures of the colourful costumes and massive sound systems are splashed all over the world’s media. But it has one secret that only a few get see: J’ouvert.

The name means ‘opening of the day’, and there’s one reason why you don’t hear much about it – J’ouvert starts at 6am. It’s the traditional opening for Carnival in London, just as it is in Trinidad.

Appropriately for something that begins in the half-light of dawn, the tradition goes back to the dark days of slavery, when revellers would literally unleash the demons. Devils, men in chains, bats, near-naked bodies smeared in oil or molasses made a graphic public display of past private torments. This ‘ole mas’ is the dark side of Carnival, the antidote to glittery, feathery ‘pretty mas’.

London’s J’ouvert is distinctive. There are no sound systems, no guest artistes, no grandstanding celebrities, hardly any police and very few onlookers beyond a few sleepy residents watching from their windows and doorsteps. Music is strictly steelpan and ‘bottle and spoon’, the atmosphere anarchic and fun, the dress code relaxed – because you’re going to get covered in powder and paint as you ‘chip’ behind the steel band.

This is the joy of J’ouvert. It’s a precious couple of hours when you’re freed from your everyday cares and can get as messy as you want, all to the sound of seductive steelpan music. But shhh…keep the secret to yourself.

ESSENTIALS

Starts/ends Sainsbury’s roundabout (junction of Ladbroke Grove and Canal Way)

Route Out and back along Ladbroke Grove

Time 6am to 9am

Music Steelpan

Cost Free, though J’ouvert packages are available

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