The Notting Hill Carnival has been taking place in London, on the last weekend in August, for the past forty seven years; Carnival 2013 will be the 49th. This great festival began initially from the energies of Black immigrants from the Caribbean, particularly from Trinidad, where the Carnival tradition is very strong, and from people living locally who dreamed of creating a festival to bring together the people of Notting Hill, most of whom as immigrants, were facing racism, lack of working opportunities, poor housing conditions resulting in a general suppression of good self-esteem.
There had been racial tensions in the late 50s and Black people were subjected to constant pressures. Dances were organised in halls in North London and elsewhere by Claudia Jones, where Black people, mainly Trinidadians, could come together freely. At the same time steel band music was being played each Sunday at the Colherne Pub in Earls Court by Trinidadians who had immigrated to England after World War II to help develop the 'Mother Country'.
Rhaune Laslett, a well respected social worker in Notting Hill of the 60s, decided to invite the steelband to take part in a street festival in Notting Hill. This was the first time that steelband music was played on any streets in England.
The idea of inviting the steelband to take part in the festival was so as to appeal to the vast majority of West Indians in the area who felt alienated from the community celebration.
When the steelband came to the Notting Hill Festival in 1964, nearly every West Indian as well as local white people, came onto the streets in celebration, song and dance enthused by the infectious rendition of popular songs on pan. For the first time Black people could express themselves freely on the streets of Notting Hill in appreciation of the music and togetherness and reminiscing of the Carnivals back home. The opportunity to dance and perform in the streets of London free of all pressures was not to be missed!
The Notting Hill Carnival as we know it today was born on that occasion and has since evolved into an event that predominantly reflects the best of Black Music. Sterling Betancourt, Russ Henderson and others were part of that first steelband and are still very much a part of Carnival playing in steelbands like Nostalgia and Pan Necktar.