By Leela Ramdeen
Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“God does not reveal himself in the abstract, but by using languages, imagery and expressions that are bound to different cultures…The phenomenon of culture is, in its various aspects, an essential datum of human experience.” –Pope Benedict XVI, 2010.
Cultural diversity plays an important role in human development and in nation building. Sadly, fear of ‘the other’, of those whose ethnicity, race, traditions, cultural practices etc are different from ours, often prevent us from building inclusive societies.
For a number of years, I have been privileged to be one of the judges at Notting Hill Carnival (NHC), London. This year NHC celebrated its 53rd anniversary over the Bank Holiday Weekend—August 25 and 26.
In spite of temperatures of 32°C plus (89.6°F), the sweltering heat did not deter people from enjoying themselves. It is estimated that more than one million people from around the world attended the celebrations over the two-day period.
Matthew Phillip, Executive Director of the Carnival Village Trust said that NHC is Europe’s biggest celebration of culture, diversity and inclusivity. He said: “The Notting Hill Carnival is the ideal way to bring together a divided country and remember those who have been caught up in the Windrush scandal.
Carnival was brought to us by the Windrush generation. It was that influx of people which created carnival in the first place. It was a chance for the diverse community of Notting Hill to come together and celebrate the fact that we’ve got a lot more in common with people than differences. That’s still relevant today” (UK Guardian).
At 3 p.m. on both days, everyone fell silent for 72 seconds to honour the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017. As the media reported: “Grenfell Tower, which is still wrapped in cladding following the fire two years ago, stands within half a mile of the carnival’s parade route.”
NHC contributes approximately £100 million to the economy, and supports the equivalent of 3,000 full-time jobs—facts that are often overlooked. As usual, the media focused mainly on the number of crimes committed: the 353 persons arrested, the amount of police resources allocated to ensure security and the Section 60 order. Phillip rightly said: “Carnival is not a public order problem. It is a celebration.”
In order to counteract negative press reports, he and his team embarked on a proactive PR campaign before the carnival. He said: “We’ve had far greater coverage of the people who make carnival – the band leaders, the sound-system leaders, the mas camps…”
Commander Dave Musker, in charge of policing the NHC, said: “Carnival is one of London’s best attended events, celebrating the diversity of this amazing city and everything that it stands for.”
My brother, Anil ‘Speedy’ Ramdeen and his partner, Clary Salandy, continue to share their amazing costumes in their band, Mahogany Carnival Arts. Their theme was: The Melting Pot. They won on both day –Modern Contemporary category.
Trini-born Beverly Toney’s meticulous planning and execution of the process to facilitate the judging of the bands is to be commended. There were 77 bands, 30 sound systems and 3 live stages.
The lead up to NHC includes Calypso competitions and Panorama. The winners at Panorama were: Mangrove Steel Band, Metronomes Steel Orchestra, and Ebony Steel Band. Helena B, the new Soca Queen, won the prestigious ACASA Groovy Soca Monarch title for Soca In Between. Stephen Spark said in Soca News: “It’s a great song that expresses the sheer joy and exhilaration that so many of us—of any age—feel when we’re caught up in the great musical maelstrom known as Carnival.”
NHC will continue to evolve. While some feel that there are too many sound systems, too many Dutty Mas Bands spraying/throwing ‘abeer’, chocolate, etc., and too many bikinis and beads, it is clear that there is room for everyone. I am happy that the Brazilian bands are now judged separately.
I always enjoy meeting old friends and making new ones. It was a joy to greet my friends, Trini-born UK actor, Rudolph Walker, and his wife, Evangeline. In October there will be a celebration for Rudolph’s 80th birthday.
Sr Monica Tywang played her role in organising the Carnival Mass on Saturday at St Mary of the Angels RC Church. The Mass adds a spiritual dimension to the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of NHC. It is worth investing time, creativity, energy and money to develop the NHC.
Social quote of the week
“In Jesus, God completely committed himself in order to restore hope to the poor, to those who were deprived of dignity, to strangers, to the sick, to captives, and to sinners, whom he welcomed with kindness. In all this, Jesus was the living expression of the Father’s mercy.”
Pope Francis, Jubilee Audience,
February 20, 2016
CCSJ Social Justice