Stars, sound systems and surprises: Notting Hill Carnival 2022 was a triumphant comeback

The revolutionary street party – with everyone from Megan Thee Stallion to Denzel Curry living it up – was a huge celebration and one for the history books

The essential Carnival finally returned to the infamous, colourful streets of Notting Hill last weekend. After a three-year IRL hiatus because of the mahoosive coronavirus outbreak, it was once unimaginable that the west London party could come back at its old capacity, especially as 2019’s event saw a record-high number of attendees – two million, in fact – enjoying the raving festivities in the blazing heat. Yet this year, even with an estimated half that number of attendees, it was a similarly joyous occasion.

At any Carnival, there are always spectacles way beyond the five key attractions I told you about previously, but others also include whines atop bus stops and dancing police officers – those things that go viral. This year, though, the viral stories were outlandishly crazy. With a child being born and a bus shelter caving in under dancing revellers, one thing is for sure – this year’s fête was one for the history books.

For its big comeback, NME was invited to a few events to optimise our carnival experience: the first being a part of the adult parade on Monday. One of the most iconic steel bands in the whole of the UK, Ebony Mas, joined up with TikTok for an illustrious display of fun and colour that day. With rum and Red Bull flowing, TikTok and their guests came in their brightest scantily-clad clothing to show off their dance moves. With oiled waistlines swirling around to all the soca classics (because there’s no carnival without soca) you could see famous as well as viral faces, from Little Mix’s Leigh-Ann Pinnock to friend of NME Lava La Rue, catching the carnival bug.

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While waving our flags, proudly repping where we’re from, we witnessed a few performances from formidable music maestros. The most fun was, of course, Top Five-charting afroswing collective WSTRN’s Haile and Louis Rei performing in their side of London, exuding pride that they “come from the western”. However, there was an air of confusion when the duo sing their unofficial carnival anthem, ‘Txtin’, without their third founding member Akelle, who’s an integral part of the group’s dancehall-inspired track. Despite that, they played their tropical tunes, perking up us partygoers.

But if you weren’t watching the floats and went to the sound systems, the Wray and Nephew yard party went off on Sunday. It was headlined by dancehall juggernauts Cham and Kranium. And you could see the godfather of dancehall music, Sean Paul, create havoc around Notting Hill Carnival on Monday, performing his true hometown hits and not his cheesy pop ones. If you were lucky enough, you would have had a few too many cups of the iconic rum and danced the day away.

There was also the legendary Rampage Sound system, which boasted the Grammy Award-winning Koffee, who put in a brief performance. With bodies squished all around Rampage’s corner to enjoy their array of popular Black staple hits – ranging from hip-hop and afrobeats to traditional dancehall and soca – there was that fuzzy, ineffable feeling you get when you and your friends (old and new) get hyped up by your favourite song. The hyperbolic reactions were justified because we had all waited so long for this moment.

Seeing all the genuine elation of carnival goers always warms my heart. It was amazing, as a proud Black British-Caribbean person, to be able to not only have a slice of home (if you think Notting Hill carnival is amazing, try the Bajan Cropover Festival, or the Bacchanal City Trinidad Carnival!) but also to share that culture with all my friends. The cultural melting pot that is London is in full force when it comes to Carnival.

If you don’t believe that, well, you could have seen Nigerian afro-pop princess Tiwa Savage enjoying herself at Afrobeats Corner. Or, after the whole jubilant event, you could have seen some of your favourite international celebrities rage on until morning at exciting after-parties like Our Homecoming. Started by Skepta’s manager, Grace Ladoja MBE, this year’s All Connect – in collaboration with Patta and Jameson – party saw the alté superstar TeeZee perform at the infamous Ladbroke Grove venue, LAYLOW. And, once again, Megan Thee Stallion hosted her annual hottie party where stars like Denzel Curry and Bree Runway had fun at the bougie Decimo, with Megan passing bottles out to her super-fans to “have a motherfucking good time”.

Of course, as usual, the crummy right-wing press was quick to misrepresent the weekend. It’s horrific that the rapper TKorStretch was fatally stabbed at this year’s carnival and that were was some other violence – which blights any major event – but the papers’ intense focus on this violence skews the facts. As author Marvyn Harrison noted on Twitter: “1.3m people attend Notting Hill carnival and 38 people get arrested.” He then broke down the percentage this amounts to: 0.0029%.

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If you understand the origin of Notting Hill Carnival, you know that it emerged from the dark depths of racist violence, which birthed a revolutionary street party: you cannot tarnish a million people’s good time because a small fraction of attendees wants to commit crimes. That’s unfair.

This event is so important to so many. Lockdown was a hard concept for most of us to grasp and Notting Hill Carnival was one of few motivations to get through those isolating times. And when carnival was forced online in 2020, it could never live up to the all-drinking, all-dancing spectacle it’s always been live. Yes, coronavirus restrictions were lifted last year, but there was still no parade, leaving many to wonder: would we never have another?

But like the truly resilient country we are, bouncing back from whatever foolishness is flung at us, we got our beloved street party back. For the overwhelming majority, Notting Hill Carnival 2022 was a hugely positive celebration.

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