Notting Hill Carnival has been going on for over six decades, but this year, the street party meant more than most to the community after what happened at Grenfell Tower.
On June 14, 2017, around 80 people lost their lives in the fire that injured 70 more and made over 200 people homeless, so Carnival organisers and revellers made sure that the Grenfell spirit was alive and well over the Bank Holiday weekend.
“Green for Grenfell” was a common theme among civilians and celebrities alike as vibrant shades of fern, forest, mint and shamrock stood out from the crowds across the entire festival. Lily Allen wore head-to-toe green as she joined Shy FX at the Sir Lloyd stage on Leamington Road Villas, as did Craig David, who wore khaki in homage as he belted out classic garage hits and new songs. At Red Bull’s stage in Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park Jourdan Dunn told me she was wearing “green for Grenfell because that’s what it’s all about.”
That is what Carnival is all about; bringing together a community to show that in times of hardship we can overcome these testing times together, as a unit. That’s what founder Rhaune Laslett wanted when she had the idea for a festival that would inspire racial unity in the community following the Notting Hill race riots of 1959. Seven years later the multicultural festival came alive, with help from local residents from India, Ghana, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Ireland, New Orleans and Nigeria, and the decades that followed saw Carnival become very much Caribbean in flavour, as well as continue to promote inclusivity in and across London.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, critics slammed the local council authority for seemingly allowing this corporate murder to happen, because they didn’t care about the safety of low income families. At Notting Hill Carnival, thousands of people showed how much they cared about the negligence that led to those tragic deaths and throughout the parade route posters, banners and T-shirts were covered with Grenfell tributes.
“I bought my Grenfell T-shirt so I could not only contribute money to the relief effort but wear it in solidarity with those affected and remind people it never should have happened,” Jane from East London told me. “I might not live in the area but coming to Carnival makes me feel part of this greater community and seeing so much Grenfell love here shows what a great community it actually is.”
At 3pm, as we came down Ladbroke Grove on the Red Bull X Mangrove float the soundsystems went off and the streets went quiet. It had been prearranged that on both days of Carnival, participants and revellers would mark a minute of silence in tribute to the Grenfell victims. Solemn faces filled the streets, with some heads faced down and their hands held together in unity and respect. When the minute was over, cheers filled the streets, whistles sounded and trumpets blew in remembrance.
“Just look around you,” Jackson from Westbourne Park said to me after the silence. “There’s Jamaicans here, Asians, Africans, whites, blacks, browns, men, women and children, all showing respect in the exact same way. We are all the same, you know. It don’t matter what type of flat you live in or how much money is in the bank. Those Grenfell Tower victims deserved better and we’re here to remind them of that and keep their spirit alive, yeah?”
The Grenfell spirit could definitely be felt and well throughout the two-day event, from the opening ceremony which saw Mayor Sadiq Khan release doves with the victim’s families to the lighting up of Trellick Tower in green in the evening. Everywhere you went Grenfell could be seen and heard as performers at various sound systems continually name-checked the tragedy and asked us to raise a tin, or a rum, or what ever drink you had in your hand, in memory of the victims.
As someone who grew up in West London, and lived in the local area for the last four years, the show of solidarity with the Grenfell Tower residents made me even prouder to call this place my home. To see so much love and dancing and happiness when something so terrible has happened in recent months. Not just with Grenfell, but the London and Manchester Terror Attacks and other terrible things that have affected the UK this year.
Notting Hill Carnival reminded me this year that we shouldn’t allow negativity to spread but make sure it is drowned out by music like reggae, soca and dancehall, by laughter and singing, by a community coming together with the sole purpose of producing positive vibes. That is what getting in the Carni spirit is all about, and what it will always be about for years to come.
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Words: Hanna Flint
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