It’s another year in exile for Notting Hill Carnival, deported from the streets that gave it life 55 years ago. Where racist residents, grandstanding politicians, snarling media and thick blue lines of police failed, an invisible bug succeeded for the second year running. But only partly…
Covid might be feeling pleased with itself, but the irrepressible energy and determination of Carnival can’t be kept locked down. As every masquerader knows, when one way is blocked you just have to find another. And that’s what organiser Notting Hill Carnival Ltd (NHCL) has done.
At the heart of this year’s carnival substitute offering are three sessions at Opera Holland Park called Carnival Culture in the Park (CCP). These outdoor events all run from 6.30pm to 9.30pm and tickets must be bought in advance. CCP kicks off with Classic Calypso at 7.30pm on Thursday 19 August. Giselle Carter, G String, Helena B, Alexander D Great and others will be performing with a six-piece band.
The carnival-lover is spoilt for choice on Friday 20th. Maybe start off at the Chelsea Theatre, just off the King’s Road, where you can find Carnival Comes to Chelsea. Organiser Venture Community Association (VCA) promises it will have “all the culture, all the music, all the costumes, all the steelpan, all the history and family fun” – though we wonder how they’ll fit that lot into a small theatre in just five hours (12 to 5pm). There’ll be food too, we’re told.
Walk a mile and a half (and tay lay lay!) to reach the next CCP treat in Holland Park, Pan in the Park for 6.30pm. Expect to be blown away not just by London’s big beasts of steel, Ebony and Mangrove, but also by the wonderful Trinidadian soprano Anne Fridal.
It’s sure to be a night to savour – but carnival-lovers face a dilemma. Over by Latimer Road at the Maxilla from 8pm there’s the prospect of four hours of calypso and soca. The UK Calypso and Soca Lime Launch will showcase stars of ACASA’s London Calypso Tent including reigning UK Calypso Monarch G String and reigning UK Groovy Soca Monarch Ms Desire, plus previous title-holders and more.
Then it’s back to the park on Saturday 21 August for the final CCP show. Be there at 7.30pm for Pan Jazz – an evening of Caribbean jazz from the Engine Room Collective, with steelpan virtuosi Andre White, Leon ‘Foster’ Thomas, Samuel Dubois, Carlene Etienne and Deborah Eden. When it’s over you’ll need to show some Olympic style for a sprint to the Tab to catch the last 90 minutes of the Ultimate Soca Showcase at The Tabernacle the same evening. Triniboi Juicy, Ms Desire, Batch and SunDivas will be on stage from 9pm to 11.30pm.
No pan on the road, but there’s plenty in the park this year, and your next rendezvous with the ring of steel is on Sunday 22nd at Powis Square. Steel the Show celebrates 70 years of this wonderful instrument’s arrival in Britain with youth performances from Mangrove, Endurance, Ebony, New Generation, St Michael & All Angels, Southside Harmonics and Croydon SO from 12pm.
Just a few days to wait, and the next free show is waiting for you. The Community Carnival Party at Portobello Green is another VCA event and starts at midday on Thursday 26th, but we had no more details as we went to press.
By this stage we’ll be ready for the premier event in the UK steelband calendar, on Carnival Saturday 28 August – Panorama. Yes, it’s happening and not, as was rumoured a few weeks ago, in some distant car park, but in its long-time home, Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance off Kensal Road. Four bands will compete for the ultimate steelband accolade: Ebony Steelband, Metronomes SB, Croydon Steel Orchestra plus reigning champions Mangrove Steelband.
It’s not ‘just’ steelpan – there’s mas too! For those of us who somehow missed the Mas Mus Play events at The Tab on 25 July and 1 August there’ll be a chance to catch some costume action at the Pleasance from 6pm, along with Brazilian bands, food stalls, bars and a big screen. After the results are announced, DJs will play and keep things moving until midnight.
As the off-road version of Notting Hill Carnival approaches the chequered flag, there are two final pit-stops, and where better than at The Tabernacle in Powis Square. We finish our Notting Hill journey where we began: with calypso. There will be two nights of the London Calypso Tent on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 August, running from 7.30pm to 11pm.
Other exciting activities in prospect encompass soca (don’t forget Soca Fridays each week at the Tab, 6-10pm), food and drink, Afrobeats, sound systems and mas-making workshops.
If you’ve missed out on tickets or can’t reach West London, don’t worry – you’ll be able to watch livestreams of Panorama and the Holland Park shows on NHCL’s new TikTok platform at @NHCarnivalLDN.
The Carnival vibe won’t end at midnight on Monday 30 August, though. From 1 to 3 October there’ll be live steelpan and calypso performances at The Tabernacle as part of the International Conference in Carnival Arts, and later in Black History Month we’ve been promised a second round of the Calypso Tent.
One thing is for sure, Covid can’t kill the Carnival spirit.
Full events list here socanews.com/events
All information was believed correct at the time of publishing this article, but events are being altered and added almost hourly.
Most events require tickets to be obtained in advance. Prices range from £5 to £15. Some are free but may still require a ticket. For NHCL events, go to ticketsource.co.uk, but hurry because shows are selling out fast.
Although we are not aware of any requirement to show a vaccine ‘passport’ for these events, it might be wise to carry proof of Covid vaccination with you, especially when going to indoor shows.
After its 18-month slumber, the soca scene is waking up and raring to go. To keep yourself vaccinated against boredom we recommend a daily injection of socanews.com!