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Echoes of Windrush at Notting Hill Carnival 2023

Updated: May 21

In June this year, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush dropping anchor in Tilbury, Essex in the United Kingdom on June 21, 1948.

The arrival of HMT Windrush with 1,027 passengers and two stowaways marked the dawn of the United Kingdom as a truly multicultural society.

The arrival of immigrants mostly from the Caribbean and other parts of the commonwealth between 1948 (on HMT Empire Windrush) and 1971 gave the generation its name.

Over two days on August 27th and 28th 2023, more than two million people gathered on the streets of the Notting Hill area of Kensington to celebrate.

Often cited as having begun in 1966, the origins of the Notting Hill Carnival are a bit farther down the line with historians noting that the first ‘Caribbean Carnival’ held further down the road on 30 January 1959 in the St Pancras town hall.

Organized by Trinidadian journalist and activist Claudia Jones it was held indoors and was seen largely as a response to the UK's first-ever race riots of 1958 in which over 100 people were arrested and charged.

The second Caribbean carnival held seven years later in August 1966. This was an alfresco event and the lead organizer was Rhaune Laslett. It was a more diverse and colourful event aimed at promoting cultural diversity and unity.

The carnival procession was pure serendipity. Russell Henderson’s steel band which had played at Claudia Jones' event years earlier was on a walkabout when it ran into a street party for neighbourhood children and that was how it became a street carnival.

Four years later, Henderson’s band was joined by another band led by Selwyn Baptiste. It was called the Notting Hill Adventure Playground Steelband.

Fast forward to over 50 years later and the Notting Hill carnival has grown into Europe’s biggest street festival and in 2006, was voted onto a list of icons of England by the British public.

The carnival has held every year except for 2020 when it took a two-year hiatus no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The carnival returned in 2022 and resumed at full throttle.

Though marred by incidents of unruliness and violence, the 2023 was significant coming on the 75th anniversary of Windrush with a special commemorative Windrush-themed double-decker bus marking the 75th anniversary of the docking of HMT Empire Windrush.

The double-decker bus features artwork by artist Baraka Carberry (who was one of the artists that produced Windrush @ 75 commemorative stamps) and ran as part of the Transport for London (TfL) float during the carnival.

The Windrush generation and the Notting Hill Carnival are interconnected chapters in the storied history of UK and the commonwealth. Celebrated every year in August, the carnival is a unique showcase of the diversity, resilience and rich culture that have come to define the nation. The story behind and of the carnival is one of migration, struggle, celebration, and the indomitable spirit of a multicultural community.

With its echoes of Windrush @ 75, this year’s carnival continues a tradition that celebrates the essence of the Caribbean heritage viewed from the prism of music, dance, food, and art reflecting the West Indians unique contribution to the UK’s emergence as a truly multicultural society and melting pot of diverse cultures.

Photo credit: BBC

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