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27 November 2014

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A carnival to aspire to - Notting Hill Carnival
One to aspire to - Notting Hill Carnival

Carnival? What carnival?

Chanje Kunda
In true Manchester tradition, Carnival Day was overcast and grey, but to brighten things up, a dozen floats featuring colourful costumes in gold, metallic blues and greens, lime green and purple, flame red, orange, and sunshine yellow.

Adorned with an array of beads, tassels, and feathers, there were coloured tights, fishnets, short skirts, bra tops and the traditional tight shorts known as ‘batty riders’ because of their tight fit (a mesmerizing proposition when combined with the hip-based dancing). There were also flags from around the Caribbean, steel drums and a few whistles being blown.

On the surface, it seemed like a traditional carnival but on closer inspection, it didn’t quite live up to the ideals of carnival – two floats, that’s ten percent of the procession, weren’t even in costumes.

One of these was a float was in the shape of a boat, with those onboard looking dishevelled and unkempt in black. There wasn’t a Caribbean person amongst them and the only prop they had was a tin foil sword. Maybe they were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which is about Hollywood, not the Caribbean culture. I was bewildered as to how they managed to earn a place on the procession.

"She is a symbol of black beauty and a source of pride for our community, yet where was she? Where was her throne?"
Chanje bemoans the absence of a Carnival queen

There was also a Christian float on the procession, who wore only orange T-shirts that advertising their church. A highly unimaginative idea, as standard T-shirts are not at all in keeping with tradition and it wasn’t visually interesting for the spectators either.

The dancers that were dressed in colourful skimpy outfits looked cold in the rain and none of them particularly looked like they were enjoying themselves, but they soldiered on in an attempt to keep their culture alive. A noble gesture, but the procession lacked the vibrant spirit it is supposed to have. Perhaps if some of the umbrellas were customised with beads and tassels, they could be incorporated into the dance, then at least the dancers wouldn’t be cold and wet!

Still, I thought I’d go to Alexandra Park to see the procession coming home, only to find more disappointment. There was no carnival queen at the front in the traditional big costume. She is a symbol of black beauty and a source of pride for our community, yet where was she? Where was her throne?

There were none of the usual lavish costumes
There were none of the usual lavish costumes

In the park, there was only the main stage and no separate sound systems. Sound systems are an integral part of carnival and are a celebration of Dancehall, Ragga, Reggae and Soca music, which expresses the spirit and culture of Caribbean people. This is what gets people dancing and brings the people together in unity and celebration. This was missing from the carnival as were the crowds of people, and who can blame them?

There were two Caribbean Carnivals in Manchester this year, one in July, one in August. The one in July was the original Carnival run by the black community. It had a poetry tent, music on a main stage and different sound systems playing music in the park. It was better attended than this one, even though it only had one float. Apparently a cut in Council funding was to blame.

It appears that the Manchester City Council and the leaders of the black community are at loggerheads, and some are saying that this has set back race relations by about 20 years! Why can’t they get together to make one really good carnival, instead of two deficient events? Manchester deserves better.

A council spokesperson said:

Manchester City Council, along with the organisers of the Caribbean Carnival of Manchester (CCoM), recently advertised for people to join a voluntary group with a shared vision of delivering a fully inclusive and unified Carnival in Manchester.    

There has already been a significant level of interest from the local community and the deadline for application has therefore been extended to 31 August (for the Caribbean Carnival of Manchester 2007).

We hope that the new management arrangements will be in place towards the end of the year.

Meantime, the Council recognises the desire on the part of MICC to organise a Carnival and will not stand in the way of this or any other community festival providing the requisite standards of event management together with health and safety standards are maintained.

Anyone still interested in applying can do so by telephone on 234 5200 or by email:
last updated: 30/08/06
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