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home alone: A tale of notting hill carnival

 Electric colours. Extravagant feathers. Big brass bands booming; sequins shiver and shake.

Usually attended by a whooping crowd of 2 million (and that’s discounting the 40,000 volunteers), Notting Hill Carnival is one of London’s most historic and most popular events. Deeply rooted in Caribbean culture, Carnival has drawn on a variety of black diasporas in order to celebrate black history since the 1960s.

In 2020, organisers cancelled due to the pandemic, and many were disheartened to hear it was being called off again in 2021. The Carnival itself is upheld by an array of artists, photographers and performers. They come together to produce the very core of the event, a beautiful parade that begins Great Western Road and comes to an end by Kensal Green Cemetery.

To commemorate the biggest party Covid ever killed, we asked Jade Morgan, arts programme manager and avid Carnival-goer, to don her costume while home alone, as a tribute to second year with less colour.

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For many, Carnival is a symbol of something greater than themselves. For Jade, who is originally from Birmingham and moved to London to work with disadvantaged youth, encouraging them to develop their creativity, it’s an ‘expression of freedom and culture.’ As a third generation Bajan and Jamaican woman, the event holds a particularly special place in her heart.

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Revellers joyfully swarming the streets in 2006

I ask Jade about the frustration of Carnival being cancelled for two consecutive years. Although her discontent is clear, she is deeply understanding. She remarks, ‘I knew it was a decision made not just by the government, but by members of The Notting Hill Carnival community. That made me feel like this wasn’t the beginning of a phasing out of carnival.’

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‘I could speak about Notting Hill Carnival for hours,’ she laughs, ‘Carnival is like bringing ‘home’ to the UK, it brings communities together.’ We talk about the importance of Carnival for the Windrush community, and the significance of its founder Claudia Jones. Our conversation travels in time, and as we peddle through the past we come gradually back to the present.

There are issues with Notting Hill, now ultra-gentrified, and in a sense the huge virtual programme devised by the organisers as a replacement in 2020 and 2021 – while impressive – seems like a squeaky clean version of the real-life thing. NHC is supposed to be random and rambling, a heaving, spectacular sensory spectacle where the rhythm of calypso and smell of jerk chicken come together to warp your system. Nothing digital can really replace it.

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Full of life, laughing dancers photographed by Rio Blake
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Food being made on the famous West London porches
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photographed by Rio Blake

At least tonight, even if it is only for us, one of her magnificent headpieces comes out. It’s the first headpiece she ever wore, from a mass band she joined with her friends (the family mass band N2K). They had a massive impact, making her feel welcome and teaching her how to create costumes, as well as the cultural impact of NHC. She has kept it to this day because of how much it means to her and we’re delighted we could help get it out this year, if not onto the streets, in our own way. 

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Jade Morgan photographed by Sibelle Saglam

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