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Notting Hill Carnival 2022
Photography Jared Phanco

In pictures: Notting Hill Carnival’s big comeback

‘There’s no judgement here, just vibes’

For years, the UK’s August bank holiday weekend has meant one thing: Notting Hill Carnival.

Think: Soca, calypso, Mas bands, booming sound systems, costumes, Trinidadian roti. Its beginnings trace back to the mid-60s, when Trinidadian human rights activist Claudia Jones started organising gatherings to unite the community after a series of racially motivated attacks on West Indians in Notting Hill. Notting Hill Carnival began as a political protest, and is now one of the world’s largest street festivals and a celebration of Black Caribbean culture.

Now, the world-famous street festival has returned for the first time since 2019, having been cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Londoners and people from all over the world danced down the streets of west London for the first time in three years, with a turnout of close to a million. We spoke to some of you who did, to hear what Carnival means to you, and how it felt to be back.

“Carnival is so important and it means so much because it’s a safe space where I can unapologetically be me and express myself fully while celebrating Caribbean culture,” says 24-year-old Genevieve, who has Jamaican heritage. “There’s no judgement, it’s just full of vibes.”

Genevieve went to Carnival on both days and loves that each day offers something different. The Sunday is the J’Ouvert Carnival – also known as “the family day”, and features a children’s parade and family workshops. Monday is the biggest day: it sees 84 Mas Bands travelling dressed in costumes, as well as two live stages for people to enjoy.

Genevieve makes a group chat with her friends every year to plan which Mas band they’re going with. This year, she went with Island Mas. “You just know everyone in your Mas band has come for a good time,” she says. “Leading up to Carnival, it felt surreal that it actually would happen this year.”

“On the day, I got up before my alarm with the most energy, and I never get up before my alarm,” she continues. “When I got on the train, seeing other people in their t-shirts and with their flags and whistles, I finally felt at home, like a sense of belonging. One of my friends was close to tears.” Genevieve also found it refreshing being able to hear soca music for the entire day, which she says is rare for London events.

“Carnival is so important and it means so much because it’s a safe space where I can unapologetically be me and express myself fully while celebrating Caribbean culture” – Genevieve

For 24-year-old Rianna who spent most of her life in Dominica, Carnival means togetherness. “Family, good food, good music, vibrations, dancing. It’s where we all come together and you see those intergenerational relations, where young and old are vibing and enjoying in the same space,” she says. 

Rianna has been to Carnival multiple times over the years, but this year was her first time playing Mas and wearing a costume. “I think it’s even better when you’re not on the sidelines. I don’t want to compare it to back home, because that’s a different vibe, but I did feel like I was back home because I was playing with DUKA [The Dominica UK Association].” 

Though she dislikes the overcrowding at Notting Hill Carnival, she still loved the vibe and overall sense of community. “I went with my Guyanese friend on the Sunday. She would stop people to ask what part of Guyana they were from. It was really nice to see. On the Monday I went with my cousins, and it was the first time in a long time all of us were around the same area.”

Rianna also tells me that for her, being at Carnival this year felt like liberation. For a few days, she was able to forget about all her problems, just focusing on the present and the joy she was feeling. “It was giving soft girl era, it was giving stress-free – I loved it!”

Tyrek, 23, has Jamaican heritage. He has been going to Notting Hill Carnival for as long as he can remember and has experienced it with different people in his life. “It’s something that was always a constant for me. My mum used to take me when I was a kid and I’ve gone with family, family friends, and friends,” he says. “Carnival has always been so special to me. It's like a family reunion in a way.”

Tyrek had reservations about going this year, and wondered if COVID would impact celebrations. “Monkeypox is a thing now too. And will there be violence? It was the first Carnival in three years, you know bare people are going to turn out for it, so what was that going to look like?”

“But my emotion towards Carnival has always remained the same. There’s nothing for me that I can compare to it. Manchester Carnival is fun but nothing compares to Notting Hill,” he says. He likes that it’s a celebration of Caribbean culture and the fact that something that started out as a protest has become so big. “It represents the impact the Caribbean has had on the UK, the style, the music, the food, the culture. That’s what I really love.”

Follow photographer Jared Phanco on Instagram here.