|Leeds Carnival 2005|
- Sunday 21 August: Carnival Prince and Princess show
- Friday 26 August: Carnival Queen
- Saturday 27 August: Calypso Monarch
- Monday 29 August: J'Ouvert Morning, carnival and Last Lap jam
We look at the roots of Leeds' carnival and the impact on it of one resident.
Arthur France made the journey from the Caribbean island of Nevis to Leeds in 1957. His experience is typical of the prejudice that greeted the new arrivals, “The welcome was very cold, black people couldn’t find places to live”.
In 1964 Arthur France was one of the major players behind the formation of the United Caribbean Association, fiercely campaigning for equal rights and an end to discrimination.
|More carnival colour at Leeds|
Arthur believed that the West Indians, scattered across the country, “needed something to bind us together as people of the Caribbean”. By 1967 the first truly Caribbean carnival in the country, under a black British committee, took place in Leeds. It celebrated its Snow, or carnival queen, danced to the Gay Carnival Steel Band and entertained the city with its procession of fantastic troupes.
Carnival has undergone many changes, although its roots probably lie in an earlier pagan festival, carnivals were originally recorded as being held in 15th Century Italy to celebrate the last day before Lent (Shrove Tuesday or Mardis Gras). Carnival comes from the word 'carne' (meaning meat) and the word 'vale' (meaning farewell).
French settlers introduced carnival to Trinidad, where it began as a high-society affair,
indulged in by the colonial rulers. After emancipation in 1830, carnivals were adopted by newly freed slaves to celebrate their liberation. The distinctive sound and rhythm of samba, calypso and steel pan, that define Caribbean carnival, are African inventions. However, the flamboyant mas parades with their extravagant costumes were adapted from the European tradition of carnival.
Arthur France had vivid memories of the carnivals of Trinidad and St Kitts-Nevis. With others he set about adapting traditional festivities to help harmony between West Indian communities in Britain and celebrate their cultural identity.
|The crowds around the main arena|
Arthur describes carnival as the only day of the year when “the people of every race, colour, clan and creed come together in harmony”.
The Leeds West Indian Carnival has enjoyed a largely harmonious relationship with the city, bar a few isolated instances of violence. Even in the early years, the carnival enjoyed the full co-operation of the police.
Where violence did occur, it was the exception rather than the rule. The 1990 carnival is referred to as the ‘annus horribilis’ by the carnival committee when three people were killed.
The Leeds carnival has retained a distinctive West Indian flavour. Leeds chose to focus on traditional Caribbean carnival culture. The organisers have been determined to nurture mas bands (the masquerade bands that make up the colourful procession), West Indian designers and steel pan musicians. The sound systems, associated with carnivals such as Notting Hill, are at the periphery at Leeds, the focus being on Soca Sounds and steel pan – the traditional music of Caribbean carnival.
The procession raised the profile of the black community. From 1983, the procession avoided the city centre, travelling around the Harehills and Chapeltown areas. An invitation from the council, in 2002, saw the procession return to the city centre. Carnival has helped deliver the Caribbean community from the city’s margins to centre stage.
Arthur France has received many awards for his community awards and in 1997 he was awarded the MBE.