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Trinidadian activist and journalist Claudia Jones shot like a comet through London’s grey skies. Her all-too-brief life blazed a trail that others have followed ever since. Notably, she laid the foundations for what was to become Notting Hill Carnival.
The Notting Hill race riots of August and September 1958 had created a toxic atmosphere that needed to be washed away. Along with her colleagues on the West Indian Gazette, Jones organised a ‘Caribbean Carnival’ at St Pancras Town Hall. This was to be a showcase for everything positive and creative that the Caribbean community was bringing to the capital. It had to be held indoors, of course – no sane person would take Carnival on the road in January in Britain – but it contained all the elements of the real thing, from mas to calypso and steelpan. It was a huge success and became an annual event, stopping only when Jones’s brave heart gave out on Christmas Eve 1964.
Now we are facing more challenges and sometimes it seems as if negativity is winning the day. The media narrative (except in Soca News, of course!) too often demonises Carnival as a crime scene and a safety risk, ignoring its heritage and trivialising its artistry.
With that in mind, a new pre-Carnival event, in the comfort of a theatre, will “showcase the creativity, heritage and artistic excellence of Carnival”.
Called Carnival Showcase, it will take place on 21 July at the Shaw Theatre in Euston Road ‑ almost opposite St Pancras Town Hall where 60 years ago Claudia Jones gave London its first taste of the artistry and energy of Caribbean Carnival.
The aim, its organiser says, is to “show how Carnival has brought us together as one community and one family by bringing together artists from diverse genres, backgrounds and different walks of life”.
So what can we expect to see? Well, mas, of course. The featured bands are Elimu, Gemz, Soca Massive, UCOM, Island Mas and Cocoyea. And music, naturally – calypso from Alexander D Great, Tobago Crusoe, D Alberto and Giselle Carter-Sandy, plus DJ Piper and Ebony Steel Band. There will be moko jumbies, talented young violinist Jada Marsh and Trinidadian actress, model and entrepreneur Maurisa Coleman. Arts and crafts stalls and an exhibition showing the development of a costume from idea to finished creation are also promised.
It will be interesting to see how the Carnival Showcase will take these ‘on the road’ elements and turn them into an exciting stage show. If it succeeds, then the biggest problem will be keeping the audience in their seats!