Notting Hill Carnival, as I’m sure you all know, is a 2-day Caribbean carnival that happens in West London during the bank holiday weekend at the end of August every year. The first day is children’s day meaning that a lot of people in the parade/procession are children, but still a lot of adults are there watching and taking part in the other activities. The Monday is the main day where the parade is for adults and the overall attendance is higher.
I’ve been going for both days since I was 16 (my mum didn’t let me before that because it’s supposedly dangerous) and it’s my favourite day of the year. If you’re not part of the procession (“playing mas”), then you might go to eat some nice Caribbean food, to see the colourful costumes in the procession, or (in my case) to party all day at the static sound systems which are basically like huge outdoor house parties playing dancehall and reggae (although you can find ones for other types of music too).
I love it because it’s the only day of the year when it’s acceptable to run/jump/dance around the streets of West London wearing bright revealing clothes and makeup, with a bottle of alcohol in your hand from 9am and whistle/horn around your neck. The food smells/tastes amazing and the vibe is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. This is me dancing and eating at the same time:
Playing mas (going in a costume behind a float in the procession) had never really occurred to me until last year when one of my friends did it. She invited me to join her but I said no, mainly because the floats play soca music whereas I prefer the bashment/dancehall that you find at the sound systems.
Me and my friend Ruth went to find our friend Ariel behind her float, and we immediately regretted not having decided to play mas. The atmosphere behind her truck was even better than around the carnival! We danced with her and the other people from her mas band for about an hour and then left her to it. This is us with Ariel:
Ruth and Ariel live in America (they were just here to study for a year) so they’re unfortunately not coming to carnival this year, but fortunately I made friends with a girl called Monique this year who’s studying in London but lives in Canada. They have a similar carnival in Canada every year and she’s played mas for years there, so we decided we’ll do it together this year at Notting Hill.
To join a mas band, you just find a list of them online (google “notting hill carnival mas bands” or whatever), then find each of the bands’ Facebook pages or websites where they’ll show pictures of this year’s costumes and the dates of their launch parties etc. Pick whichever you think looks the best, go to their launch and order your costume! We decided we liked the look of Burrokeets (www.burrokeets.com) so we went to one of their parties and then ordered the costumes online, giving our measurements etc.
Most mas bands charge about £100 but this includes unlimited rum punch and water all day, and 3 meals throughout the day as well as the costume (which you get to keep after). Last week I got a message from Joan, the leader of the band, saying we have to collect the costumes this Friday (tomorrow) evening from a hair salon in North London.
I’m going to carnival on Sunday (just with some friends, the same as I normally do) so if the costume needs some adjusting (with the help of my mum) or anything, I only have Saturday to sort it out, so I really hope it fits properly.
I’m really excited about playing mas for the first time but I’m also a bit nervous because obviously there’ll be thousands of tourists watching (and taking pictures so I’ll probably be on some random people’s Facebook pages). Monique is an amazing dancer so I won’t look too great next to her, but the rum punch will solve all problems I’m sure!