It’s back: west London’s superior outdoor bash is coming back to the streets of Notting Hill, three years after its IRL hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. For British people of Caribbean heritage, Notting Hill carnival is the Mecca of the whole culture. With the rich history of west London’s Caribbean community coming together after monstrous attacks from Teddy Boys and other racist groups in the past, Notting Hill Carnival highlights our story. And now it is a pop cultural phenomenon. Let NME’s resident Carnival fanatic tell you where to go for this year’s comeback.
Monday’s adult parade
Full of glittery floats and feathery ladies looking their best around the Notting Hill circuit, the parade is definitely the main spectacle of London’s biggest and favourite carnival. With each float – usually representing an island in the West Indies, but sometimes just the Caribbean as a whole – emanating loud and lively soca, calypso and more, it’s a colourful attraction. Quite often, for first-time carnival goers, it’s simply a case of following the booming bass line because with good music and liquor in the sun, what more do you need? And you’ll surely find something exciting on your way to the iconic blue arches near Trellick Towers.
Mouth-watering food stalls
After all the dancing around and alcohol swigging, what else is there to do other than try some West Indian classics? For the most part, you’ll see a bunch of Jamaican food stalls enticing your “hunger belly” with golden flaky patties for a fiver (extortionate, I know: they’re £2 any other day) and wash it down with some rum punch. But you can also try Trini’ rotis and doubles, or even some Guyanese pepper pot. No matter where you walk, a food vendor will take your money and give you some of the most delicious food you’ve ever had.
The iconic Rampage soundsystem
Rampage’s DJing collective should be seen as a Black British institution. It’s often cited as the best sound system at NHC, and you have to try and find it in NHC’s back roads, sandwiched between the flashy houses in London’s richest borough. Everywhere else will mostly be playing your standard island hits, but here at Rampage you may get Black British classics (and guests!) spun from the top of their watchman’s tower. This is the best spot in the whole area, but beware: this is usually so packed that you’ll likely lose your friends.
Sunday’s Child’s Parade and J’Ouvert
Of course, if you’re not down for the rammed nature of Monday’s main adult parade, try Sunday’s quieter one. It’s dubbed the ‘Kid’s Parade’ and on Sunday morning (around 10am), you see mini carnival superstars with their glittered smiles prancing around to kid-friendly soca and calypso with their mas (another name for float group). Then after, the big kids come out with all the paint and powder you need for a really messy celebration called J’Ouvert. If you love mess, J’Ouvert might be for you, but don’t wear your best white clothes unless you want them dyed forever. All of this chaos comes before Sunday’s average crowd comes down for the tamed day of NHC.
Piano People Takeover
Despite its rich (and partly traumatic) West Indian roots, Notting Hill carnival is an amazing celebration for all the diaspora as the first-ever amapiano stage is in motion this year. With amapiano becoming a huge musical phenomenon over lockdown, the whistling yelps and sirens will invoke your dancing feet if you’re not the biggest soca, calypso or even dancehall fan. For those who are more introverted and not massively into huge huddles of unpredictable people, chilling at their Hazelwood Crescent location will be a better option. There’s nothing but day party vibes at this static soundsystem, so, without any worry, you’ll have a fun (and unique) carnival experience.