The Bands

Discover the stories behind the sounds

By Notting Hill Carnival

The earlier years of Ebony Steelband (1983/1983) by mr lesNotting Hill Carnival

Music has always been at the heart of Notting Hill Carnival and as the largest street party in Europe. Over two million revellers experience the five key sounds of Carnival that are made up of Mas Bands, Steelbands, Calypso, Brazilian Bands and Sound Systems

The Might of Rome (2018)Notting Hill Carnival

Mas Bands

The origins of mas, from the word ‘masquerade’, go back to the 1800's with the emancipation of slavery in the Caribbean. 

Prior to their freedom, the slaves would mimic and ridicule the masters, copying the elaborate gowns worn at their celebration balls and combining them with many African traditions of their former cultures – which included costumes made with bones and natural products, and blue devils playing music with tins and bamboo. 

Ebony Steelband at Notting Hill Carnival in the 80's (1988/1988) by Mr LesNotting Hill Carnival

Steelbands

Steelpan rang out the first sound of Carnival on the streets of Notting Hill in the mid 1960s. Russell Henderson and his band had been invited by Rhaune Laslett to play pan at the children’s street fair she had organised. 

Russell decided to ‘make ah rounds’, and, with pan round neck, the band took the first steps into what has now become the biggest street event in Europe. Steelpan remains an integral element of Notting Hill Carnival today.

Panorama 2019 (2019/2019) by Steelpan Agency TrustNotting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival (2013)Notting Hill Carnival

Calypso

The music’s very name is a clue to this tangled history. ‘Calypso’ dates only from the late 1890s, before which it was known as cariso or caliso, a Spanish word for a topical song. 

It’s documented that Calypso first arrived in the UK, with the British West Indies Regiment who were stationed on the south coast in 1917. However, the Caribbean genre was given huge exposure when Trinidadian Calypsonian, Lord Kitchener was filmed emerging from the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948. A Pathé reporter asked him to sing a Calypso, and he gave Britain his song ‘London is the Place for Me’ on the spot. A UK Calypso scene was born.

Sound SystemNotting Hill Carnival

Sound Systems

‘Sound’ is a super-amplified mobile system, invariably called by a name, manned by a team of individuals, each having real skills, who together create a unique party vibe wherever they set up and play recorded music of their choice. 


The concept of a sound system originated in Jamaica during the 1950’s. The idea arguably came from Jamaicans going back and forth to the USA during the 40’s & 50’s and being bowled over hearing American R&B bands playing through PA systems and were inspired by the New York block parties

Sound SystemNotting Hill Carnival

Rooted in Jamaican culture and ‘Reggae’ music, sound systems were officially introduced to NHC in 1973. Today there are over 30 static sound systems catering for numerous musical tastes. 

Brazilian BandNotting Hill Carnival

Brazilian Bands

Brazilian Bands were first introduced to Notting Hill Carnival in 1984 by The London School of Samba. They have proved to be a very popular feature on the road. With their choreographed dance routines and energetic, synchronised live drumming, they delight spectators and bring variety to the parade route. 

Brazilian BandNotting Hill Carnival

Explore more of Notting Hill Carnival's history, music and the people that make it all possible here.

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