“We Call It Lineage” Linett Kamala And Notting Hill Carnival

Building inter-generational unity through music...

In the run-up to the last bank holiday in summer, it’s unlikely any question in London is asked as often as, “you going carnival?” Invariably, the answer is most often… “Yes, but I probably won’t be able to find you, so have a good one.” Every year, a rhythmic blend of soca, dancehall, and bashment reverberates through London’s Notting Hill – an echo of a cultural celebration that has thrived for the past five decades. This year saw the celebrations return for the second time after the pandemic, and spirits were as high as ever.

Linett Kamala, a significant presence within the Notting Hill Carnival community and a member of its board of directors, is known for her passion and dedication to preserving the essence of the celebration and holding a light in the direction of progress. Kamala’s connection to the Carnival runs deep, and as the event commemorates another iteration, we delve into its rich history, the origins that sparked the creation of the irreplaceable event, and Linett Kamala’s remarkable efforts to ensure its vibrant legacy.

Describing Linett Kamala’s character can be summed up in two words: warm and open. These traits were immediately evident as we discussed her very first experience at Notting Hill Carnival. “The approach into carnival from the Kensal rise route, there’s a bridge that leads up, and you have this incredible view all the way down, right up to Notting Hill gate. That’s probably my earliest memory of being on my father’s shoulders. Seeing a sea of millions of heads, the noise and the smells, and the fact that it was joyful. There were bits of costume and a loudness I’ve never experienced before.” The connection Linett Kamala holds to the visceral experience of Notting Hill Carnival is one that ties so many people together. Anyone who has ever stood on the well-trodden curbs of Ladbroke Grove, gnawing on a patty as an endless procession of dancers, costumes, families, and friends pulse around them knows this experience too – it’s one of the joys that binds London together every year. “The Carnival started as a form of resistance – a way to claim our space and culture and show the world our strength.”

Legacy is more than just habitual practice. It’s like rivers; it carves over time. With each branch and iteration, it shrinks and expands, gathering ground and moulding the cultural landscape. Every river needs a source, and every legacy has its starting point. The impactful origins behind the first Notting Hill Carnival is a story that stirs Linett Kamala deeply. Kamala details that during her upbringing, she was engrossed in the festivity and hadn’t delved sufficiently into the profound historical roots of the celebration, that since she had learned of this she’d become adamant to honour it. “I didn’t know about the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane, which is why the event exists. I didn’t know about it. Or the incredible woman Rhaune Laslett. How iconic, what a role model.”

Rhaune Laslett was a community activist and the principal organiser of the Notting Hill Fayre or Festival, which evolved into the Notting Hill Carnival. This event laid the foundation for the multicultural celebration that eventually became the Notting Hill Carnival. She organised the event as a way to help the various cultural groups of Notting Hill become more familiar with each other’s customs, to bring more color and life to the streets, and to counter the perception of the area being a run-down slum.

On August 29, 1958, a group of white youths attacked a group of Afro-Caribbean residents in the Notting Hill area. The violence escalated over several days, with sporadic clashes between white and black residents – an event that came to be known as the Notting Hill Race Riots. The underlying cause of these tensions was the tragic killing of Kelso Cochrane, a 32-year-old carpenter from Antigua. He fell victim to an unprovoked and racially motivated assault, which served as the catalyst.

Cochrane’s murder shocked and galvanised the Afro-Caribbean community in London. It was a turning point that sparked outrage and mobilised the community to demand justice and an end to the pervasive racial discrimination they faced. The murder of Kelso Cochrane, along with other instances of racial violence, led to a growing sense of unity and a desire to celebrate Caribbean culture and heritage.

While the murder of Kelso Cochrane was a deeply tragic situation, it played a pivotal role in inspiring a movement that led to the establishment of Notting Hill Carnival – an event that continues to thrive as a symbol of unity, resilience, and cultural celebration. It was learning about this that also spurred Linett to take a more active role, both in her dedication to the legacy of the carnival and her documenting and sharing what was happening around and through her. “Sometimes, what you’re doing is so important it has to be captured, written down, and collated… That’s when other people started approaching me saying, ‘Oh, my goodness, we didn’t realise this is really significant.'”

Venturing into the vibrant world of Carnival in the 1980s, Linett Kamala carved her place in history as one of the trailblazing female DJs igniting the rhythms of the iconic Notting Hill Carnival. “I’m grateful because then it all makes sense. All the dots lining up. As tough as things were at the time, we keep going because you don’t know who you’re helping support in the future.” She graced the stages with the renowned sound system, This Ya Generation, setting a precedent that still resonates today. As the beats moved the masses, Kamala’s journey transcended the decks, propelling her to become the steward of the very sound system she animated.

But her journey didn’t stop at the turntables. Evolving from DJ extraordinaire to Carnival custodian, Kamala’s influence expanded to embrace the Carnival’s heartbeat: the exuberant crowds. Kamala recognized a responsibility to kindle the Carnival flame in the hearts of the next generation. This vision birthed the Sound Systems Futures program – an initiative that not only trains but also empowers young minds enthralled by the art of sound systems. Kamala’s unwavering dedication and the force of her company have ignited a haven for a select group of individuals each year, where the mysteries of sound operations are unravelled through hands-on experience. “As we all get older, we’re passing on. So that’s why for me, this was super important. I’m from an education background, I’m used to doing leadership programs to change the face of school leadership. Someone’s got to be confident and bold enough to say, ‘I’m here.’ And then hopefully, by other women seeing this, it might give them a little spot, and they’ll run with it.”

Kamala’s impact extends beyond the beats and rhythms. Her passion is intertwined with an earnest desire to unveil Carnival’s rich cultural tapestry. She rallies behind the revival of Children’s Day, an essential chapter in her Carnival saga. Her ambitions rest firmly on a desire to cement Notting Hill Carnival’s legacy as an enduring cultural icon. Linett Kamala stands not only as a beacon for women in the Carnival but also as a custodian of its soul, ensuring its beats resound for generations to come.

Stay in touch with Linett Kamala online.

Words: Naima Sutton

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