A Brief History of Notting Hill Carnival

Every year over a million people descend on West London to party over the August Bank Holiday weekend. The Notting Hill Carnival is the culmination of a summer of festivals and outdoor parties, and for many it's the highlight: a final fling before heralding in the autumn. The colourful mas costumes sway to a blend of soca, steel bands and other Caribbean rhythms while the side streets are held hostage by sound systems pumping out reggae, hip hop and a whole spectrum of club sounds.

Carnival celebrated its 40th year in 2004, with headline acts crossing the globe to perform at the live sound stages. Scores of floats - followed by hundreds of costumed mas performers - and 50 official sound systems turned out the music whilst 250 stalls served up a myriad of food and drink to keep the crowd partying. Not to mention the numerous unofficial 'shops' operated from gardens, supermarket trolleys and pockets, and the DIY sound systems hosted from bedroom windows.

Today, the sound systems are crowned by Norman and Joey Jay's Good Times: a regular attendee since 1980 that pioneered the playing of funk, disco and other 'good grooves' to increasingly appreciative crowds. Other top sounds include Aba Shanti, Saxon, KCC, Mastermind, Rampage, and the crowd pleasing sounds of Sancho Panza. Tim Westwood's Hip Hop sessions historically rocked Westway - until the size of the crowds became too much for the organisers. 2004 saw the Carnival debut of the mighty Co-op sound system, bringing broken beats to a new audience.

But it wasn't always like this...

Bitter Sweet Beginnings

Carnival's humble beginnings back in the late fifties were a low key affair: a reaction to the hostile environment and often less than friendly welcome the locals in 'mother England' gave new arrivals from The Islands. Carnival started as a direct response to the racially motivated Notting Hill riots of 1958, when police charged more than 100 people over the August bank holiday weekend. The West Indian Gazette Caribbean Carnival was initially held in St Pancras Town Hall and was followed by an outdoor procession in North Kensington.

Later on Carnival moved to the then poor area of Notting Hill, to join the various ethnic groups of Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean and African – contributing to a week-long event that culminated with an August bank holiday parade.

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