How Notting Hill Carnival fared in its first ever online event


For Londoners, 2020 has delivered a host of changes to work schedules, social outings and several long standing norms. The nature of the coronavirus pandemic has meant that some of these changes have been significantly more important than others. Understandably though, there was some disappointment when it was announced in May that Notting Hill Carnival was to be cancelled. The decision represented the first time the event would be halted in more than 50 years and was one of a number of high profile events from the Glastonbury Festival to the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled as part of wider efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

Now, it is important to stress that ‘disappointment’ is used with respect here. The Nation and indeed the world was (and still is) dealing with a significantly more consequential affair. Added to this is the fact that many within the capital and the nation as a whole will have friends, family or loved ones with connections of some sort to the NHS. Having a personal reminder of the stress and toll the opening months of the pandemic had on those individuals, acted as an apt reminder that there was no cost too great to bear to safeguard loved ones and ensure the virus was kept under control.

Assuming one was without this personal touch, the 24-hour news cycle and rise in cases and deaths made clear the severity of what was at stake. ‘Disappointment’ here speaks less to entitlement and more to the realisation that the virus was rapidly changing norms which had previously been considered immovable, and Carnival which brings an end to Summer every year, was no exception. Naturally then, it was to the great surprise of many when it was announced in July that the London Summer staple would be going ahead online.

The Carnival’s Executive Director, Matthew Phillip spoke of “the responsibility” the organisation had to its community and pioneers to honour the event's importance. He spoke of its importance as part of people’s lives and how it represented a key celebration of the multiculturalism of the UK (in reality Carnival as we are able to experience it, has its roots in Trinidadian culture.)

Anyone who has been to Carnival may have been confused. Not so much at the intention to maintain its presence online, but how well it would translate in a digital space. So much of the appeal of the event is in the energy. The atmosphere which the celebration of Trinidadian and wider caribbean culture, and its fusion with Jamaican sound system culture is able to generate. How this manages to combine with the heat and how the culture manifests itself through the cluttered streets, the music, the spectacle, outfits and wall to wall bombardment of sound. These elements in unison see Carnival take on a life of its own. Akin to a living, breathing, all-encompassing cyclone that demands those caught in its wind play both roles of full-time contributor and observer.

Knowing this, it’s understandable to see why there would be doubts surrounding this year’s experience. Is it really possible to have an event as driven by interaction as carnival, function to its fullest capacity without the stream of people that gather every year? The answer quite simply is no - but it’s fair to question whether, given the events of 2020, that was even needed.

At a time more than any other, where isolation is being encouraged and people are spending more time apart, the three day online event over the weekend offered an outlet at a time in which many have most needed it. The online parade (which was streamed on YouTube) featured 30 traditional street performance groups, with viewers being able to choose between 14 sound systems. In addition, close to 15 steel bands were streamed and Seani B also offered a virtual Carnival party of sorts, with mixes from DJ Puffy and Supa Nytro. To top it off, there were live performances from both Nessa Preppy, Kes and Moyan.

The BBC also joined in on the act. Though streamed via their own platforms, BBC 1xtra hosted a number of artists from Koffee to Gracious K, while holding their Official Notting Hill Carnival after party shows on Sunday and Monday from 11pm to 1am. This reality is that this year’s online celebration will have been missed by many. The nature of carnival lends itself to interaction and without the chance to take to streets as many are accustomed to, this year’s online meeting may not have held the same draw as is usually the case. But for those that were able to tune in, the Carnival spirit, even if only from home, may have kept those pained by its absence some much needed company.

Mayowa Ayodele


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