Notting Hill Carnival
London’s biggest party is set to take over the last weekend of August. Drawing in over a million visitors each year, Notting Hill Carnival is second only to Rio Carnival in size – and it’s a vibe you can’t miss.
Chosen for: Preserving Culture and Driving Diversity.
Black expression, Black creativity and Black music remain at the heart of Notting Hill Carnival. The Windrush Generation, primarily from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, was drafted in from 1948 to 1971 to fill the UK’s post-war labour shortage, but the community experienced racism, xenophobia and violence after arriving. Notting Hill Carnival was created to uplift the Black community and ease racial tensions in the UK. Today, it symbolises a more contemporary London – a celebration of communities with Caribbean culture at the forefront.
The cultural event has been woven into the fabric of the capital city, and each year it amasses a larger audience than most events in the UK. Smaller cities, such as Bristol and Leeds, have their own iterations and each carnival has a distinct identity. Uniquely, Notting Hill is the only full-scale carnival in the world to feature multiple static sound systems – a feature introduced in 1973 by the then carnival organiser Leslie Palmer MBE. From legends in the game like Channel One, King Tubby's and Rampage – which holds an impressive crowd of approximately 330,000 over the two days – the energy at Notting Hill is unmatched. You can read about sound system culture and download our Notting Hill Carnival map here.
Notting Hill Carnival takes place in an affluent pocket of west London where white and colourful houses adorn the wide streets. The founding stories of Mangrove Mas & Steel (one of the largest Mas Bands at the carnival) were born out of the Mangrove community, whose base used to be on All Saints Road – now home to Peoples Sound and RAPPATTACK Sound System. The community is well-known for the Mangrove Nine trial, which uncovered the first proof of institutionalised racism within London’s Metropolitan Police. (You can watch our short documentary MAS, which tells the history and heritage of Mas Band culture at Notting Hill Carnival, here.) Today, there is still work to be done in driving diversity forwards in line-ups and creating more safe spaces for women in large crowds, something Board Director for the Notting Hill Carnival, Linett Kamala, is spearheading forward.
Each year, in the early hours of the morning, the event begins with j'ouvert and rolls through to Dirty Mas, where people are covered in chocolate and colourful paint. Then there are the Mas Bands, steel bands, calypso, Brazilian bands and, finally, the static sound systems and live stages. Globally-renowned artists – like the dancehall giant Sean Paul – perform on stage. Jerk smoke and weed clouds the air; bass mids and tops fill your ears, mixed in with the sounds of hundreds of horns and whistles. People can catch a wine or Red Stripe on every corner. Thousands of flamboyant and feathered costumes make up the parade, and there’s more skin than fabric on display, no matter if it’s rain or shine. Dancers – adorned in jewels – shimmer on the floats. Notting Hill Carnival has evolved with the times, as the arts and levels of cultural diversity have grown in the UK. It now stands as the largest street party for marginalised communities in London; a marker of cultural pride, and a symbol of resilience in the face of systemic racism.
Notting Hill Carnival returns to London, UK, on 27-28 August 2023.