Davina Hamilton writes about Notting Hill Carnival's 50th year celebration, assuring the public that “Yes, this is Notting Hill Carnival's 50th year,” as Debora Alleyne De Gazon, creative director of the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises Trust, clears up the confusion about the year the event began. Here are excerpts; please read full article in The Voice:
THERE has been considerable dispute about the year Notting Hill Carnival began, calling into question whether 2016 does – as many insist – mark the event’s 50th anniversary. Trinidadian activist and newspaper editor, Claudia Jones is often credited as the ‘Mother of Carnival,’ thanks to her well-documented Caribbean Carnival – an indoor event that she organised, which took place in London’s St Pancras Town Hall in 1959.
The event is often heralded as spearheading the Notting Hill Carnival we know and love today. But for many historians and carnival aficionados, it’s not Jones that deserves the credit for the famed west London festival, but a lesser-known pioneer – Rhaune Laslett (read more about her on page 18), who organised the Notting Hill Fayre in 1966.
“When we talk about Notting Hill Carnival, we need to be geographically specific,” says Debora Alleyne De Gazon, creative director of the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises Trust. “Yes, in 1959, we had Claudia Jones fighting the cause against racial inequality, and one of the ways she approached that was with an indoor event that had elements of carnival, like the steel bands and calypsonians. But that wasn’t the same as Notting Hill Carnival. In 1966, Rhaune Laslett used the power of the arts and the idea of bringing cultures together as the basis for her idea. She engaged the steel pan group, the Russell Henderson Trio, who really made their presence known in 1964 when they began an impromptu march through the streets, which created a nostalgic moment. [. . .] So when it comes to the actual establishment, where you had a team putting together a programme for a carnival, Rhaune Laslett started that with her Notting Hill Fayre in 1966. In being geographically specific – as opposed to saying, ‘I was in Brixton and I started a carnival, which then moved to Notting Hill’ – you recognise that Notting Hill Carnival was born in 1966. So this is our 50th year.”
While De Gazon credits London-born Laslett as Notting Hill Carnival’s true founder, she says acknowledgement must also be given to many others for their involvement in the event’s development.
“Rhaune Laslett definitely put things in place,” De Gazon affirms. “When Rhaune left, [pioneer] Merle Major sustained the same elements of the event by continuing to involve Russ Henderson. That is why we also reconginse Russ Henderson [and fellow steel pan musicians] Ralph Cherrie and Sterling Betancourt as the fathers of the carnival. We would also tag [former carnival director] Leslie Palmer, who, in 1973, put a hell of a lot of work into the event. Leslie was supported by Westway Trust, which was known back then as the North Kensington Amenity Trust, and that trust was headed by Anthony Perry. So there are a lot of people to recognise when it comes to Notting Hill Carnival.”
Hailing from Trinidad, De Gazon’s role is integral to the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises Trust, which works to transform perceptions of carnival and educate audiences about the event. [. . .]
What would De Gazon say to the carnival traditionalists, who feel that through its evolution, Notting Hill Carnival has lost its Caribbean flair? “I don’t think it has lost its flair,” she says. “The Caribbean roots are still evident through the music, the food and the presence of the steel bands. But we need to remember that we live in a cosmopolitan society and when cultures come together, there will be overlapping.
“So now, we have many cultures participating, but I don’t think we’ve lost anything. What we now have is a hybrid that still has its roots in tact. If you take the roots out, that is when Notting Hill Carnival will die.” [. . .]