The Notting Hill Carnival has become a London institution. Over the August Bank Holiday (this year the 28th and 29th August) the streets of Notting Hill, West London burst into colour, sound-tracked by some of the meatiest sound systems you’re likely to see this side of Kingston, Jamaica.
The celebration of Jamaican culture begun in 1964 and has ballooned into the largest street festival in Europe. This year’s celebrations take on even greater meaning as its founder Sam King MBE, a Jamaican migrant who became the first black man to be mayor of Southwark, died this year. From humble beginnings (500 people attended the first festival), the carnival now attracts over 1 million revellers over the two days, with 50,000 performers taking part in the parade.
Celebrate his passing in a style that would make him proud and head on down to the celebrations. If you’re staying in any of our West London hotels, such as easyHotel London Paddington, easyHotel London South Kensington or easyHotel London Earls Court, you will be well placed to stumble home after a day of carnival, Red Stripe and jerk chicken.
Sunday 28th is children’s day. The floats start from 10am, you can expect the dancing to be a bit more PG-13 and the revellers tend to be a bit quieter on this day. If you do intend to travel with children it may be best to get there a touch earlier than you would normally and get yourself a good spot to enjoy the floats passing by.
Monday 29th is the grand finale. 60 bands dressed exuberantly will pass by on the floats. But the real party can be found in the side streets and away from the main parade route. There will be 38 static sound systems to be found.
The sound systems
Doing a bit of homework before you go is the best way to enjoy the sound systems. There’s nothing less fun than being stuck in a bottle neck around a chilled out reggae sound system when all you want is jump in the air drum & bass. Below is our pick of the best:
Gladwin Right (Gladdy Wax) is regarded as a hero of the London reggae scene. The sound system has been going for over 40 years. Expect classic reggae tunes from one of the finest selectors at the carnival. Find them adjacent to 304/306 Portobello Road.
You want that jump around drum & bass? This is the place for you. A fixture of the carnival for over 25 years, they’ll be playing on All Saint’s Road opposite The Pelican pub.
Another classic reggae sound system. It’s systems such as this one that the carnival was built on and around. Bass heavy reggae music that’s made a beeline straight from Jamaica to the streets of London. Find them on the corner of Oxford Gardens and St Lawrence Terrace.
For seasoned revellers King Tubby needs no introduction. For first-timers, King Tubby was an innovator in the dub genre. Often referred to as a scientist of sound, he met an untimely demise in 1989. But his sound lives on in his system to be found on Clydesdale Road, outside Clydesdale House.
Nasty Love Mixing Lab
A staple of carnival since 1979, this is where you’ll find the nastiest, dirtiest dancehall and bashment sounds to be found in W11. Growling MCs and rumbling beats are order of the day on Colville Gardens.
Shy FX is a hero in the jungle and drum & bass scene. His presence on the Sir Lloyd sound system draws big crowds and even bigger stars. Expect big-name special guests at this historic spot outside 54 Leamington Road Villas on Tavistock Road.
Carnival is an assault on the senses. And the sound is just the half of it.
The smells and tastes of the Caribbean need to be enjoyed as well. Stalls will be dotted all over the place, thick plumes of smoke will waft over the crowds from oil drum BBQs. The smell is sharp and sweet at the same time, with a rich smokiness. This is jerk chicken preparation. It’s the biggest food export of Jamaica and is enjoyed with rice and peas. For something a little more adventurous sample curried goat, don’t be put off by the hunks of bone, it’s all part of the experience.
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