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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Carnival: The people's party
Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival: A celebration of life
By Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

Each August Bank Holiday weekend, more than one million people flock to West London's Notting Hill Carnival, transforming the streets into a dazzling mixture of Caribbean sound and costume.

Europe's biggest street festival, started in the 1950s by newly-arrived West Indian immigrants - most notably from Trinidad - has grown to eclipse even the Rio Carnival.

Although an expression of black pride, the carnival has crossed cultural and racial barriers.

Young children dressed in orange at Carnival
Carnival welcomes revellers of all ages

It has become as much a part of the British summer as Henley Royal Regatta, Wimbledon and The Proms.

That is not to say, though, that the road has been a smooth one.

Along the way riots, casual drink-fuelled violence and a struggle to find sponsors have all dogged the carnival's organisers. But the spirit of carnival remains undimmed.


The roots of Carnival lie in another part of the world and in another age.

During the era of slavery, enslaved black people in Trinidad were allowed to play musical instruments and dress up only during Mardi Gras, the traditional European feast day Shrove Tuesday before Lent.

A vast Carnival crowd
The carnival attracts huge crowds

Following the ending of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, the carnival was established as a colourful and noisy celebration of black culture.

When West Indians migrated to Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War, the carnival came along too, becoming an official event in 1964.

Tradition has it that many of the masquerade bands adopt a theme and satirise it through costume and make-up.

More recent forms of celebration are the sound systems, where rappers strut their stuff and DJs play reggae, dance and Latin music at immense volumes to vast crowds of partygoers.

Just as people complain that the Glastonbury Festival is now a pale and timid imitation of its former self.

As for the violence and crime, it can be argued that any event as large as the carnival will attract some undesirables.

The organisers and the Metropolitan Police ask all those attending Carnival to avoid wearing expensive jewellery and carrying large amounts of cash and to respect other Carnival-goers.

Come Bank Holiday weekend, though, the thoughts of millions will turn from sober practicalities to pure enjoyment and the three mile Carnival route, not to mention the many nearby streets, will literally rock to the seductive and intoxicating rhythms of the Caribbean.

The BBC's Jules Botfield
"The only place to be this weekend - Notting Hill"
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