Notting Hill Carnival: Joy and Celebration

Explore how Notting Hill Carnival has become a place for the expression of Black Joy and Celebration by its participants

Notting Hill Carnival Mas (2012/2012) by Oli ScarffNotting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival is a place of joy, to dance and have fun with friends and other carnival goers, and to revel in the artistry of the five key arenas of Carnival: Mas Bands, Steel Bands, Calypso, Soca and Sound Systems.

The expression of celebration and joy at Carnival, however, stems from an extensive lineage of resistance and protest that underpins Carnival itself. So, what is 'Black Joy', and how is it manifested in Notting Hill Carnival? 

Notting Hill Carnival Mas (2017/2017) by AFPNotting Hill Carnival

Black Joy

A brief definition of the term ‘Black Joy’, is that it refers to experiences of emotional pleasure and positive expressions by black people. Examples of this may be singing, dancing, smiling and laughing - all typical emotive states and activities found at Carnival.

"Black Lives Matter!" (2020-09-23/2020-09-23) by Shawn PridgenWhat We Seee

Black Joy has become a particularly popular concept in recent years, particularly following the Black Lives Matter protests. 

Digital platforms have been especially important for its popularisation, such as the Black Joy Project, a New York-based page focused on platforming and amplifying Black-led projects that create and promote Black Joy. Check them out on Instagram @theblackjoyproject!

"Where Brooklyn At?!?!" (2020-06-05/2020-06-05) by Shawn PridgenWhat We Seee

However, Black writers and academics have suggested that such ‘black joy’ doesn’t merely refer to the expression of positive emotional states by black people. 

Instead, they posit black joy itself as a form of resistance, derived from the constrainment and suppression of black bodies during enslavement and colonialism.

Disya Jeneration sound system by Babycakes RomeroNotting Hill Carnival

“West Indian carnivals are the embodiment of joy as resistance. Linked directly to slavery and revolt, carnival-type festivals — originating in Trinidad as a form of revolt by slaves — are experienced by the Black diaspora globally as a celebration of both freedom and joy.” 
(Chante Joseph for Vogue Magazine, 2020)

Mangrove Community Association (1983/1983)Notting Hill Carnival

Black Joy as Resistance at Carnival

Therefore, the origins of Carnival within contexts of enslavement and colonial resistance has clearly had a lasting impact on expressions of Black Joy and celebration in diasporic Carnivals of today.

To explore more of the history of Carnival as resistance and protest, read our story “Notting Hill Carnival: Resistance and Protest” here.

Kelso Cochrane protest by UnknownNotting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival: Joy and Celebration

Notting Hill Carnival was sparked by the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958 and the murder of Antiguan carpenter Kelso Cochrane in 1959. Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones then hosted the Caribbean Carnival at St Pancras Town Hall, to create a sense of unity in a time of racist violence.

Rhaune Laslett by UnknownNotting Hill Carnival

Following this, local resident and community activist Rhaune Laslett proposed a small event called the Notting Hill Festival in 1966 to ease the racial tensions which were still prevalent in the deprived area of North Kensington. 

This ‘small event’ would grow to become the sprawling Notting Hill Carnival we know and love today!

Early Mas in Notting Hill Carnival (1978/1978) by Frank BarrattNotting Hill Carnival

“The first carnival came together as an eclectic union of individuals and groups under the umbrella of the London Free School and cooperating across cultural, class, racial and religious boundaries."
(Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, 2014)

Notting Hill Carnival Mas (1994/1994) by Steve Eason/Hulton ArchiveNotting Hill Carnival

“The objective [of the first Notting Hill Carnival] was to entertain the children of the area, to lift the spirit of those who lived in poor slum conditions, to ease the racial tensions still persisting in the wake of the race riots of 1958 and to demonstrate the spirit of cooperation common to the progressives and activists who lived and operated in the area.” 
(Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, 2014)

Tamzyn FrenchNotting Hill Carnival

Black Joy and Notting Hill Carnival

The history of Notting Hill Carnival stands as a testament to the Black Joy exhibited and experienced at the event. Much like wider international Carnivals, Notting Hill similarly erupted from a place of resistance, protest and racial discrimination, now prioritising the cultivation and expression of joy and celebration for its participants.

As a result, Notting Hill Carnival has developed into a truly diverse diasporic Carnival, where participants from a variety of nationalities, ages, occupations and socioeconomic backgrounds can come together to cultivate and express joy.

Notting Hill Carnival Mas (2018/2018) by ReutersNotting Hill Carnival

Expressions of Black Joy at Notting Hill Carnival

There are plenty of ways that you can participate in and celebrate the 'Black Joy' of Europe's biggest street party. 

Look no further than the famous 'five key arts' of the event to find ways you can create joy at Notting Hill Carnival!

Notting Hill Carnival Mas (2015/2015) by Daniel C. SimsNotting Hill Carnival

Mas Bands

Playing Mas is an integral component of many Carnivals across the globe, and Notting Hill is no different! Choose one of our world-class Mas bands, deck yourself out in feathers and jewels, and make your way down the Carnival route in style.

Ebony Steel Band (2018/2018) by Robbie JosephNotting Hill Carnival

Steel Bands

Steel Pan is an export from Trinidad and Tobago, but has become established as a key arena of Notting Hill Carnival festivities. Make sure you check out the Panorama competition on the Saturday preceding Carnival to experience some good vibes and fierce competition!

Disya Jeneration sound system by Babycakes RomeroNotting Hill Carnival

Sound Systems

Sound Systems were introduced to Notting Hill Carnival in 1973-1975 by the then-Carnival Organiser, Leslie Palmer. Whatever musical genre you're feeling, you will surely be able to catch ah vibe with one of Notting Hill Carnival's thirty-six diverse, well-established Sound Systems!

Soca Sagaboys (2016/2016) by Soca SagaboysNotting Hill Carnival


Soca initially emerged in the 1970s in Trinidad and Tobago, but has since become a mainstay of the international Carnival experience. Make sure to check out one of the many Soca trucks operating on Notting Hill Carnival Monday and Sunday to whine yuh way through West London!

Musicman by Association of British CalypsoniansNotting Hill Carnival


If you're wanting a more relaxed Carnival experience, look no further than the pioneering genre of Calypso. Dance your way down to the Calypso Tent at the Tabernacle in West London to catch the Calypso Monarch finals on the Friday preceding Notting Hill Carnival.

Notting Hill Carnival, Introduction Video (2021/2021) by Notting Hill Carnival LtdNotting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival: Joy and Celebration

Notting Hill Carnival has established an extensive legacy as a place to produce, establish and disseminate diasporic Black Joy amongst its participants. 

Although Carnival has been online for the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope to return to the streets in force in 2022, and celebrate the Black Joy of the event in person. See you there!

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