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Monday, August 15, 2022

Oxford gets ready for Carnival Arts Conference


The 9th International Conference on Carnival Arts and Cultures gets under way at Oxford Brookes University on Friday 1 July and continues the next day. The two-day event is completely free.

The programme is a packed one and includes high-powered speakers from the Caribbean, Canada, the USA and the UK.

If you’re not based in Oxford itself then it’s worth getting an early train to hear Friday’s keynote lecture by Kela Francis, intriguingly titled ‘Bikini, Bead and Feathers: The Latent Ritual Potential of Pretty Mas’.

That’s followed by a panel themed ‘Carnival communities’ – Carnival in Oxford, Notting Hill and Toronto will all be featured. After the lunch break the focus switches to steelpan – in church, in the panyard and in France.


Soca News has a representative on a roundtable about archiving Carnival, and the day ends with a stimulating discussion on ‘Calypso in the Diaspora’. Participants include Roger Gibbs from Canada, ACASA chair Vincent John and calypsonians Alexander D Great and De Admiral.

Saturday’s keynote sees Emily Zobel Marshall exploring the subject of ‘Women in Carnival: Mas Intersections’. Emily gave a memorable presentation on Baby Doll last year so we’ll be looking forward to her follow-up.

Mas is to the fore in the morning panel discussion exploring themes of legacy, past and future. Listen out, too, for Greta Mendez, who’ll be explaining her dramatic and haunting use of traditional mas in the film Ah! Hard Rain.

After lunch, the conference debates the possibilities and pitfalls of digital Carnival. After two years of pandemic-enforced virtuality, how much of the Zoom Era do we wish to keep and develop for future Carnival and what do we wish never to see again?


The barrack yard takes centre stage in the next session as the panel considers its role in steelpan education. Finally, Lynda Rosenior-Patten lays down a challenging “call to action for creative sector professionals”, in a move “towards a decolonised, community focused strategy for arts and cultural development and production”.

There’s also a closed session debating the future of Carnival in Oxford. It’s a hot topic, because the hugely popular Cowley Road Carnival, which was due to have taken place on Sunday 3 July on Oxford Brookes’ doorstep, has been cancelled. Let’s hope they find a way to resolve the crisis.

Day 1 takes place in Room AB115a in the Abercrombie Building, Headington Campus, Oxford OX3 0BP. Day 2’s venue is a complete contrast – the Green Room in historic Headington Hill Hall, across the road. Trains to Oxford run from London Paddington and Marylebone (60-80 mins); the cheaper Oxford Tube coach leaves from London Victoria direct to Oxford Brookes, via Notting Hill Gate (120 mins).


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