As a young lad from Clarendon, Jamaica, being immersed in the culture that is so familiar to me was an invigorating experience – and it excites me even until this day.
I was a teenager back then and my uncle’s wife had a food stall there, which she had for many years. A couple of friends and I went down to help out and it was the most amazing event.
I would spend the day helping my aunt and cooking up a storm, scaling fish and seasoning chicken right through the night while joining the festivities.
Those moments were the foundation of my Carnival experience and from then on I continued to go annually.
There was nothing more thrilling for us young kids, being amongst the buzz that graced Notting Hill Carnival every year and staying up all night, as the party didn’t stop until 7am.
As I developed from a young boy to a young adult, I grew as the Carnival did. A lot of my favourite moments are based at the annual West London celebration, from my time as an enthusiastic food stall holder and also as a member of the burgeoning sound system culture, which dominated Notting Hill Carnival at the time.
Once I left school, I joined Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound System, which was one of the focal points of Carnival. We had an amazing stage at Ladbroke Grove and every year we’d play there and enjoy the vibe and the food as I formed some of my fondest memories.
It became a tradition that increasingly meant more to me as the years went by and even allowed me to forge the foundations for my business.
At Notting Hill Carnival in 1991, I launched Rasta’raunt (my food stall) – a moment of extreme significance to me and a reminder of the many entrepreneurial minds that turn up at Carnival and sell their products, make food and hope for a chance to turn things into a proper business.
I was no different from the thousands of other stallholders that hoped one day their enthusiasm and the food they cooked would pay off – and for me, it did.
The opening of the Rasta’raunt is something I look back on as a time of immense pride. From then on, my story was being told as a part of Notting Hill Carnival.
This year, the event is entering a new phase, which will see it’s first virtual celebration in its 54-year history.
From the virtual parade, which will be live-streamed on Notting Hill Carnival’s website, to the curated playlists from Spotify and sound system sets from Rampage to King Tubby’s, this experience is not to be missed.
Many would have expected Carnival to not take place this year – they could have folded and just stopped it. But I think it’s great that they’ve gone and done something special with it.
This online celebration signifies an opportunity to highlight the future of the festival and how it has adapted to the current unprecedented times.
Carnival means laughter, music, food, dancing, culture and celebration. It’s the lips of the Caribbean and it gives the world a big kiss of our roots and culture – we pass this on every year.
And in some ways, Carnival is also about London – Notting Hill Carnival is when London shouts the loudest. This is the largest festival in the world behind Rio Carnival and we have it here in our fantastic city; it shows the culture and diversity of the capital.
It is our tradition and the organisers have shown us that we are gonna take care of this no matter what obstacles are thrown at us.
Covid-19 has shown us all how adaptable we are and how we can overcome things and this is a great thing to celebrate.
This year’s virtual offering will give those all over the UK a chance to take ownership of Carnival and play a vital role – especially those who have never been before. It’s a chance to play a part and create a Carnival as you see it.
Dress up in your homes, get the food out, learn how to make costumes and enjoy.
I will certainly still be dressing up, having my family round, barbecuing on the grill and being resilient as we celebrate and embrace the Carnival spirit – come sunshine or rain.
As told to Leah Sinclair
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