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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Calling time on mas at Notting Hill?


Masquerade bands and steel bands at Notting Hill Carnival may be told to shut down and get off the road hours earlier next year. The supposed aim is to improve public safety.

The plan has been recommended by crowd dynamics specialist Movement Strategies (MS). It was hired by the Greater London Authority last year, at a cost of £53,794, to study crowd behaviour at Carnival and to propose ways of improving safety. It reported in March.

MS stated:

“An option to bring forward the end time of the Carnival Route [ie the bands] to before the close of the [static] sound systems has the potential to deliver crowd safety benefits. It is recommended that this is further explored in 2017 and, if supported, a plan for implementation in 2018 and beyond identified.”

Currently, static sounds have to shut down at 7pm; mobile (soca) sounds must switch off by 8.30pm.

Although the staggered close-down is meant to help crowds disperse, it results in large numbers of people leaving the statics and flooding on to, or trying to push across, the Carnival route. The resulting clashes and crowding are a major problem for masqueraders, band stewards and drivers.

The MS proposal would mean mas and steel bands having to go silent by about 6pm. It can take up to eight hours to complete the circuit, so a late-afternoon shutdown would force all 50 to 60 bands to set off at the (very theoretical) start time of 10am to be sure of being able to finish the route while still playing music.

While a few small local bands might be able to start before 11am, an early start can never be a realistic option for larger bands, children’s bands, those with masqueraders who have to travel long distances and bands portraying complex, artistic mas.

The proposal suggests that the MS researchers are unaware of the logistics involved in putting a mas band or steel band on the road and a poor understanding of the cultural and artistic elements of Carnival. It also appears that they made no effort to speak directly to NHC participants.

Think how far you had reached on the circuit by, say, 5.30pm last year and imagine you had to walk the rest of the way without a single beat of soca or steel. Would that be Carnival?

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