Rotterdam’s loss is Notting Hill Carnival’s gain Small Island Unity (SIU), usually the largest band at Rotterdam Carnival, abandoned the Dutch event this year and is coming to Notting Hill Carnival instead.
SIU was expected to put at 300 revellers on the road in the Dutch city’s popular annual celebration this year, but reluctantly pulled out after organiser Rotterdam Unlimited imposed restrictive new contract conditions. The band decided instead that it would send a smaller contingent of 55 masqueraders to London. They will play with Candy Mas on Sunday and Utopia on Monday.
As its name suggests, Small Island Unity’s membership is drawn mostly from the Dutch-speaking Caribbean islands of St Maarten, St Eustatius and Saba. It also includes participants from France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
Its theme in Rotterdam was to have been ‘Colours of the Wind’, which will now form the mas for Rotterdam Carnival in July 2018.
According to St Maarten-based paper The Daily Herald, the root of the disagreement was Rotterdam Unlimited’s insistence that the rights of images, videos and artworks of all Carnival revellers would be given to a local film production company – although in the end this never actually happened. The band was concerned that it would lose control of how the images would be used.
The row has echoes of an attempt in 2015 by London carnival organiser LNHCET to impose similar conditions on photographers and journalists covering Notting Hill. The result was a widespread media boycott of the event, months of negative press coverage and a lingering legacy of distrust.
The lesson for carnival organisers is clear: aggressive commercialisation and attempts to control other people’s property are guaranteed to backfire.