Thursday, August 24, 2006

Carnival – A Deeper Rhythm

The establishment, the Powers that Be, have long tried to control, curb, limit or eliminate Carnival. When the veil between past and present, the dead and the living, grows thin, the divide between Black and white, rich and poor, narrows. Carnival awakens energies which are beyond anyone’s control. The authorities are right to fear them. These forces linger from ancient times and come to life once a year.

The dancers dress up in fantasy costumes which allow them to take on altered personae. They evoke other worlds, other realms, and a deeper rhythm beats beneath their feet.

Calypsonians’ tongues lick the politicians with their observations and their wit. They mock and taunt those in authority, reminding all of who has fulfilled his responsibilities, and who has ripped off, exploited or deceived the people. Those in power may duck, dive and dance, but they cannot escape the sting in the tongue. Those in power are right to fear them.

In 1881, riots erupted in Trinidad when the colonial police attempted to clamp down on the festivities, particularly the Canboulay (canne broulee). The rioting continued for a further two years’ carnivals.

The Notting Hill Carnival began after the African Caribbean community was put under ongoing racist attack in 1958. The Carnival was seen as a way to unite local people across the cultural divide, and it has grown to become the largest street festival in Europe.

In 1976, it was the turn of the Notting Hill Carnival to be the scene of riots. It was reported that the police were attacked by African Caribbean youth after arresting a pickpocket.

For many years since then, the police have clamped down on Carnival and the authorities have repeatedly called for the celebrations to be moved from their traditional home. However, Notting Hill Carnival is a tradition which belongs to the local people and will remain local for the foreseeable future.

The organisers do everything to protect public safety. However, the forces and energies of Carnival are drawn from ancient times. Taken from their homes in distant lands, the ancestors were forced to labour, to toil and to die. Ripped from their families and loved ones beaten, raped, bled and worked to death.

At Carnival time, they were allowed briefly to remember who they were, that they were human beings, with all the creativity humans possess.

These energies lie dormant, but not dead. Once a year they are awakened. The costumes, the colours, the songs, the dances, wake the sleeping energies of the ancestors. If you dance with them, sing with them, play with them, they will bless you, protect you, or at least let you be.

Dance and sing with them, enjoy them, dress up, play mas, but do not try to control or contain them, for within them moves a powerful force. Like placing a lid on a volcano – try to contain it and it will explode, either around you or inside of you.

Click here to read an interview with Shabaka Thompson, Artistic Director of Yaa Asantewa Arts Centre.
Keywords: Carnival, Notting Hill, London, Caribbean culture

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