LONDON – Organizers of Europe’s biggest street fair, which traces its roots to the emancipation of Black slaves and race riots in London during the late 1950s, say the event is more important than ever amid the worldwide campaign for justice after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.
But their message of resistance and reconciliation will be delivered online worldwide this weekend after the COVID-19 pandemic forced London's Notting Hill Carnival to reinvent itself as a virtual event.
Even though it won't be the same, carnival must be celebrated as a mark of Black liberation, said Clary Salandy, artistic director of Mahogany Carnival Arts, which creates brightly colored costumes that are essentially wearable sculptures — some 15-feet-high — for carnival dancers.
“We can’t be on the street,″ she said. “But carnival is very much alive.”
The Notting Hill Carnival is a product of the massive influx of Black immigrants who came to Britain from its former colonies to help rebuild the country after World War II.
The wave of immigration created tensions in British society, with widespread discrimination in housing and employment that boiled over into riots in 1958. The next year, Black activist Claudia Jones organized a precursor to the carnival, a dance at St. Pancras town hall that raised money for the defense of those arrested in the turmoil.
In 1966, Carnival took to the streets of Notting Hill, one of the few places in London where landlords would rent to Blacks. The celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture has grown into a two-day street party that attracts millions of visitors to a parade of costumed dancers, steel drum bands and smoky barbecue pits serving jerk chicken and plantains.
This year, elements of the event will be prerecorded and streamed to the world on Aug. 29-31, the long weekend that traditionally ends Britain’s summer holiday season. One channel will focus on the parade, including the dancers who normally snake through the streets of Notting Hill wearing colorful headdresses, masks and movable art. Others will stream music, cultural discussions and presentations on food and drink.