Carnival takes to the streets of west London again this August bank holiday weekend, with more than a million partygoers drinking, dancing and eating their way around the annual two-day celebration of all things Caribbean. To get you in the party mood, Azimo takes you behind the scenes of Europe’s biggest, bass-thumping party.
The second largest carnival in the world (after Rio, of course) turns 50 this year – it was first dreamed up in the early 1960s and had its first proper outing in 1966 to champion racial unity. That first festival pulled in about 500 people and featured performers from Ireland, India and Cyprus, plus a well-known local Trinidadian steel band.
Roughly 1.5 million people now attend the carnival every year, squeezing into just 3.5 square miles of street space. That works out at approximately 428,000 partygoers per square mile, which means it can get pretty cosy at times. Oh, and one more fact to remember with all those people around: there’s only one public toilet for every 5,000 people!
The bill for policing the carnival is a whopping £6 million and some critics argue that the cost of putting 6,000 officers on the streets is too high, but the annual jump-up also adds nearly £100 million to London’s economy. There has even been talk of charging for the event in future, but for now entry to Europe’s biggest street party won’t cost you a penny.
At the very heart of carnival are the Mas (short for masquerade) bands that parade around the carnival route. There are some 15,000 costumes on show every year, each one carefully stitched together by hand. One million man-hours are spent decorating them with all those sequins and 15,000 feather plumes, and 30 litres of body paint add the finishing touch.
As well as the wonderfully colourful Mas parade, there are 38 static sound systems dotted around to keep the place jumping all day long, cranked to the max and pumping out everything from soca to house. For a detailed map of where each sound system is located, click here.
Carnival just wouldn’t be carnival without a plate of plantains, and there are some 300 food stalls around the carnival to feed the masses. All washed down with a can or four of Red Stripe, of course. As well as plantains and jerk chicken, food consumed at carnival includes 400 goats, 30,000 corn-on-the-cobs, 12,000 mangoes and 16,000 coconuts.