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28 October 2014

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Carnival dancer
Let's dance: carnival colour

It's carnival time

For the 38th year Leeds will be home to a carnival over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Leeds was the location for the first ever West Indian carnival, in 1967, in the UK. The first event pre-dates London's Notting Hill carnival.

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.

A carnival costume
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
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.

last updated: 03/08/05
Have Your Say
What do you like best about Leeds' carnival?
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i am rudeboy

It's such a wonderful thing to see that Leeds is so diverse and events of late have not marred this fantastic, colourful and vibrant Carnival. I am so glad that I am a part of this fab city.

I went to the carnival today for the first time. It was fantastic! The music was great, everyone was enjoying the atmosphere, sunshine and food. The kids were running around playing with one another and it was such a mix of people - what a lovely event!

Rajiv Thukral
The carnival has baught communites like Harehills and Chapeltown together with many different organisations and making the carnival make its 38th year congratulations to them this doesn't only bring the black community but a variety of communites within Harehills and Chapeltown what I really like best about the carnival is the atmosphere, the wonderful scheme of colours they hvae through out the years and most of all the people and the crowd during and after the carnival it has and will always be a wonderful bank holiday in August especially in Leeds and the community it helps throughout. (Keep up the good work people) Thank You for your time.

Sally Harehills
That everyone is there you know loads of people. The costumes too! WOW! Today the costums were sooooooooooooooooooooooooooocool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I loved it wow! I also love the fact it is always late!

Lord Bacchanaal
Good luck to Arthur France,Calvin Beach and the people of Leeds for keeping it going;as a member of the St Christopher steel band,we were there from the very beginning....Bacchanaal

member of foxwood steel bandits
re music in the park when the procession leaves: there will be a 30-strong steel band in the arena playing both trad and new stuff. If that doesn't get you guys bopping i don't know what will!! Enjoy x

tia elise clayton in balby
its really good wheres ya music gone i like ya food man ya gotta try curry goat with rice+peas i love the carnival and i'm 8 years old it my county tia

sue mackie
I like the steel bands. They make a unique sound that is only ever heard at carnivals.

Sunday's Reggae Bands, Jerk Chicken with Rice & Peas and Appleton Rum!

sophia - west australia
Aw man, it's reading things like this that makes me homesick for Leeds. I used to love going to carnival. Hope you all have a fantastic time!! xx

Christina da Silva
I am very impressed by the amazing community effort and the beautiful displays of colours and happy faces. I lived in Chapeltown for 10 years although I moved I still come back to Leeds every year to enjoy the day, the food and the harmonious atmosphere.


julie leeds
leeds is not the same where is the music? when the procession leaves the park the music is gone..oh one sound in the tennis court cmon make us jump up in da park!!

i love the cannivle and i am 7 years old its my country

ya gotta try the goat curry and dumplings!yum!perfect "munchie" food!!!

Jetson in Leeds
Ive been at leeds carnival as long as i an remember, J'ouvert morning is a must! Cant wait to rave again this year!!! Where's my horn???

Paris Sadee
I have not been to a carnival for at least 14 years. But from what i heard its usuallly very good. It was good when i did go. But now i tend to go away for the weekend but i will try and go to the carnival queen show

da best jammer
jammin down hard at j'ouvert mornin' and as the carnival go's round! can't wait!


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