27 August 2009

Carnival time!

Girl dancing at Notting Hill Carnival 2008Well, the Bank Holiday weekend is nearly upon us, which means only one thing: Carnival! Nothing beats dancing to great music out on the streets in the sunshine (fingers crossed!) in the company of thousands of other like-minded revellers.

The Notting Hill Carnival means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but to me it's mostly about the sound systems. Fortunately, despite the parade being given earlier start and finish times this year, the static sound sytems will be playing from noon till 7pm on both Sunday and Monday, just like last year (though I still feel that's way too early to have to stop the music and dancing).

The two must-visit sounds are The Gladdy Wax Road Show, which plays 60s ska through to 70s reggae, and Gaz's Rockin' Blues, which plays mento, calypso, ska, rocksteady, early reggae, soul and rhythm & blues. Gaz's sound system is always the biggest and most exciting-looking too (in fact he's deservedly won the "best-dressed sound" prize a number of times over the years) and each year he picks a different theme for it.

If roots reggae is more your thing though, you probably want to check out Channel One, Aba Shanti-I and Jah Observer.

The other sound system I enjoy is The Latin Rave Street Jam, which is the only sound playing pure Latin and Salsa on both Sunday and Monday. Fortunately, this is situated right next to Gladdy Wax, so it's easy to flit between the two (and there are public toilets nearby too - a fact well worth bearing in mind).

The Gladdy Wax Road Show is located adjacent to 304/306 Portobello Road, near the corner of Golbourne Road.

Gaz's Rockin' Blues is located outside 103 Talbot Road, near the corner of Ledbury Road.

The Latin Rave Street Jam is located outside 318 Portobello Road, right by the corner of Golbourne Road.

If coming by tube, Westbourne Park (assuming it's open) is the best station to use to get to these sound systems. Be aware that there can be tube station closures throughout the weekend though, due to overcrowding.

With the huge crowds making it difficult to move around, it can be hard to find particular floats or bands amongst the parade, but if like me you're also a fan of samba, be sure to look out for The London School Of Samba who will be celebrating 25 years at the Notting Hill Carnival this year, with the theme of their parade being "A History Of Samba". There's something very special about the sound of a Brazilian bateria parading down the street (not to mention all that sexy dancing). To find out more, visit: www.londonschoolofsamba.co.uk/public/default.asp

And finally of course, I mustn't forget the steel pan bands, which are, after all, fundamental to the roots of carnival. You will find around a dozen different pan bands playing along the parade. But with all the mobile sound systems playing on the same route, it can be difficult to find and listen to the steel bands. So, if you're a real fan of steel pan and calypso, make sure you head down to The National Panorama Championship in Hyde Park tomorrow (29th August). This takes place near Speakers Corner from noon until 9pm (the main competition starts at 4pm) and is the offical opening of the Carnival weekend. Here, you will get to hear all the different bands playing at their best, as they vie to be crowned champion.

For more on the Notting Hill Carnival, including maps and travel information, visit:

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