This year, the 54th anniversary of Notting Hill Carnival, will find me sitting with my family in Trinidad, watching the first ever virtual NHC on TV. Over the past 54 years, I think I have judged at NHC more than 10 times, including for the past four or five years. Indeed, I used to leave TT to go to London each year so that I could participate in what many call “the greatest show on earth.”
I applaud the organisers, including the bandleaders and others, for using their ingenuity to harness technology to ensure that the ‘show’ goes on. Such innovation is essential if we are to move with the times and find ways to beat this dreadful virus called COVID-19.
However, I must say that I will miss the vibes of participating on the streets, and at judging point – shuffling quietly in my seat! Let’s be honest, Lord Kitchener was right: “The road make to walk on Carnival day!”
No virtual experience can beat the camaraderie of flesh rubbing flesh as people jump up together with gay abandon; hugs when one sees a long-lost friend in the crowd; the smell of food from all over the world assailing our senses on the route and beyond; the sound of steel bands and Brazilian drums coming down the road and the DJs doing their thing with their sound systems on the route.
I feel proud that my brother, Anil (Speedy) Ramdeen, and his wife, Clary Salandy, continue to dedicate their lives to the art form with their company, Mahogany Carnival Arts. Clary is a designer par excellence. And Speedy, who honed his skills under the watchful eyes of Peter Minshall many years ago, is a talented masman. Together with their team, which includes my niece and nephews, they have been building their brand in the UK since the 1980s. Today they continue to take mas to all corners of the globe.
Finally, whilst I welcome the opportunity to sit in Trinidad and watch NHC virtually in London, my spirit, the Trini in me, will yearn for the day – 2021?? – when we can all ‘play we mas’ on the road again. And when I say, ‘we mas’, I mean humanity at large. We pay tribute to those early pioneers who introduced mas in London. I wonder if they ever, in their wildest dreams, thought that it would grow to the festival it has become. Today NHC is truly inclusive; it belongs to everyone. Over this Bank Holiday weekend, let’s hope that with access to a wider online audience we can showcase this amazing annual event to the world in a different format.
Bring on the virtual carnival, and let the music play!
Chair, Catholic Commission for Social Justice (Trinidad and Tobago)