Carnival Is Home by Ann-Marie Trotman
The cut of my unitard, fits my slight frame perfectly. As the feathers tickle my calves and knee, I adjust my arm band as everything seems to slow down ... heart beating out of my chest I can feel my excitement build as we take one last deep breath. Rayy squeezes my hand as our band leader gives us the nod to go ahead.
Judging point is packed full of people; press, cameras, photographers, spectators screaming from behind the barriers, judges talking and smiling as they catch a familiar face. The bassline, like an earthquake thundering from my platform heels and up through my body. The sweet soca riddims giving me life. I stop to take it all in as I turn to Rayy who's wukking her waist, threatening to shake every stone off her body. I laugh and join in.
I think of all of those that have come before me and take a second to thank them. I think of my Barbadian mum who was chased down foggy London streets by skinheads and give thanks she was never hurt. My Guyanese father for the continued aggressions.
Carnival came from a place of oppression and is about unity and beauty. We were enslaved and found beauty in the struggle. Even how carnival came about in London in an area where we were able to live and create spaces for ourselves, albeit in unforgiving conditions; sharing rooms with multiple people who became small communities and comforting reminders of home.
Areas now filled with the usual trappings of gentrification and a populace who moved in to be in close proximity to cool (a synonym of 'black')
A white woman places herself in front of me and my fellow masqueraders to purposely make a point. An excuse to start an argument so that she could express how she "hated carnival" ? Perhaps. Letting us know that she has been here for 30 years, not understanding that we have been here for more than 50.
You see, 50 years ago she would never have lived in Notting hill, nor places like Peckham, Camberwell and Brixton as these were the only areas that my community could afford to live in back then. In fact they were the only areas that they were allowed to even dare to exist. Fast forward 50 years and the very same people that were spat on and chased down the streets are being priced out of their claimed spaces. The posh, (predominantly) white locals are now wanting to stop this celebration as it infringes on their lives. When THEY chose to move to this area. Forgive me if I think they should fuck all the way off. I can't move to Wembley Stadium and demand that they move their events why should this be any different? The frustration runs deep.
My focus returns to my present moment with my heart excitedly beating. Rayy's hips speed up, the music intensifies as we finish our presentation at judging point - my version of a New Year is well underway, full of pride as a Caribbean woman born in the UK and showcasing our heritage to millions. So many days where I traverse my hometown feeling like I don't belong. Today is not one of them. As we get to the end of Great Western Road turning into Trini Corner my gratitude rises up in body and my tears that have been building spill out.
I am home.
Angel, 39, child of Barbadian and Guyanese heritage is a yoga teacher/PT who loves nothing more than to don her feathers and whine up she waist. You can usually find her on the streets of Notting Hill every August Bank Holiday and teaching yoga at Peckham Palms at weekends in between.