Cowley Road Carnival is back – and with steelpan too!

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Oxford’s biggest annual outdoor community event, Cowley Road Carnival, is set to make a triumphant return on Sunday 9 July.

Through the challenging Covid years of 2020 and 2021, the organisers, Cowley Road Works (CRW), managed to keep some socially distanced carnival creativity in the community, but that was followed by something of a collapse, and no event was organised in 2022. On the weekend when it should have taken place, a successful carnival conference was held at Oxford Brookes University, which included a special session to discuss the future of Cowley Road Carnival.

Happily, those efforts to regroup and rebuild – aided by some unsung heroes and heroines – seem to have paid off. In a statement issued on 22 May, carnival chairman (and “legendary DJ”) Aidan Larkin said: “We have overcome numerous obstacles to bring the carnival back to the community, and we are incredibly excited to see the return of this much-loved event.”

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Like the university city itself, Cowley Road Carnival (CRC) has been a pioneer in decarbonising carnival. To the relief of masqueraders used to choking on truck and generator fumes at Notting Hill, CRC bans all motor vehicles from its parade, which makes for a much pleasanter atmosphere.

The 2023 theme, ‘Our Nature Our Future’ reflects the green approach, which, according to CRC CEO Pax Nindi, is being enthusiastically adopted by schools, community groups and individuals, all eager to get involved once again.

Prior to the pandemic, up to 50,000 people thronged Cowley Road, in east Oxford. The media statement notes that the offering this year will be cut back to its essentials: “Due to the exceptional circumstances and limited resources, this year’s carnival will feature one main stage and the traditional procession along Cowley Road.” Nevertheless, some exciting developments are in prospect…

Soca News can exclusively report that a full pan-round-the-neck side – essentially Nostalgia Steelband and friends ‑ will be taking part in Cowley Road Carnival for the first time. Haroun Shah tells us that all are welcome to join the band on the road at 12.30pm at St Clements Street OX4 1AR. The one requirement is for each person to bring an instrument – pot or pan etc and spoon ‑ for percussion to support this makeshift band. And perhaps uniquely in the history of steelpan, the band will include a Chemistry section, perhaps adding percussive pipettes and test tubes to the mix!

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Nostalgia also has a slot (at 3.30pm) to play on stage for 30 minutes and may be joined by Reading-based calypsonian and tent organiser De Admiral. The line-up is still developing, so watch out for updates.

If you want to get involved, contact the organisers: marketing@cowleyroadworks.org; cowleyroadworks.org or call the Carnival Hotline: 0777 2151 9054.

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