Carnival spirit will be strong – and online

They say that every Notting Hill Carnival is unique and this year will be no exception … Steve Powdrill explains

group in carnival costumes
Ray Mahabir with S I A Mas Camp workshop members

For the first time in Notting Hill Carnival’s 54-year history, the festivities will not take place on the streets of Kensington, instead going ahead in virtual form due to the ongoing pandemic.

Ray Mahabir, founder of Sunshine International Arts (S.I.A), believes that it will take more than a virus to bring an end to carnival spirit. 

“Notting Hill Carnival has such a strong community and it’s so embedded in us, so important, that I can’t see it ever fizzling away and dying like that. You just have to stay on the ball,” he says.

“Staying on the ball” is certainly something we’ve all become accustomed to in 2020, from wearing a face mask to the shops to keeping a safe distance from others on the streets. 

After the outdoor festivities of Notting Hill Carnival were deemed too risky to go ahead safely by organisers in May, an alternative form of carnival has been announced – Notting Hill Carnival: Access All Areas. 

The carnival is set to be streamed for free over four separate channels from 6pm to midnight on 29 August, and from 9am to 11pm on Sunday and Monday 30 and 31 August.

There will be an array of live sets from well-known carnival favourites available for streaming, from Volcano and Disya Jeneration, to Seduction City and King Tubby’s. The carnival’s official after party will be hosted by BBC Radio 1Xtra.

You can register for free to gain access to all the music and celebrate carnival in your own way this year. 

Sunshine International Arts & Mas Camp

man in carnival costume
Ray Mahabir

In the run-up to Notting Hill Carnival, Ray Mahabir usually hosts “Mas Camp” at S.I.A’s Loughborough Junction HQ – a summer workshop course on creating carnival wear, from headdress building to feather flowing.

Classes this year are taking place in the form of a series of blog posts coordinated by S.I.A, with a heightened focus on the history and heritage of carnival. 

“It’s a daily release of blogs. I mapped out my own journey from the age of 11 to now, as well as the people who were part of my journey to being a carnival artist,” says Ray.

These nuggets of carnival history in the Mas Camp calendar have been freely accessible since 1 August – and engagement during the pandemic has been higher than usual. 

“There was no way to socially distance (with Mas Camp classes), so what we wanted to offer this year is more education about the history of carnival and the history of S.I.A.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many vulnerable people to leave their homes, S.I.A’s daily blogs helped to bridge this gap and provide carnival enthusiasts with something new to look forward to each day. 

If you’re looking to engage with carnival in a new way this year, check out S.I.A’s daily blogs and learn more about the generations that paved the way for the art of masquerade.