The history of Hackney carnivals

Carnivals have been taking place in the borough since the 1970s

COME rain or shine, there will be plenty of tropical vibes flooding through the borough on 11 September because Hackney One Carnival is back in town.

The procession will snake around from Ridley Road, through Dalston to Mare Street and back again. There will also be an all-day play area in Gillett Square, where the best of the borough’s young musicians will be performing, whilst Ridley Road will be hosting an after-party of food, beats and craft stalls.

Hackney has hosted many carnivals, such as the Mare de Gras, De Beauvoir Carnival and the 1973 Street Carnival Theatre run by Centerprise. But to celebrate the launch of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad – the four-year run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London – more than 15 carnival groups merged to form Hackney One Carnival in 2008, with a new focus on bringing together the whole of the borough. Since then the event has gone from strength to strength, and is now London's biggest carnival after Notting Hill.

Notting Hill is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It too grew out of previous events, most notably the 1959 Mardi-Gras organised at St Pancras Town Hall by Trinidadian activist and journalist Claudia Jones, known as the ‘mother of Caribbean carnival in Britain’. Her life and work is commemorated by the Claudia Jones Organisation, based in Stoke Newington Road, which for more than 30 years has provided help, services and events for women and families of African-Caribbean heritage.

Carnival organisations have also found a home in Hackney for many years. Perpetual Beauty Carnival Association was started by three families to make ‘mas’ – carnival costumes – in their own backyards. They went on to open the first ever Carnival College, offering GNVQs in art and design, with some of their amazing costumes winning at Notting Hill in 1988.

Hackney’s carnival bands actively support ethnically diverse cultural groups, bringing truly global music to the procession. Beeraahaar Sweet Combination band was founded in 1993 by Christina Oree and David Grant who were instrumental in bringing carnival to Hackney and developing its spirit of unity between all different ages, cultures and backgrounds.

A great annual favourite is the Pantonic Steel Orchestra, which was founded in 1988 as a community band that aimed to develop the artistic and educational needs of local young people. They won ‘best music on the road’ at Hackney One Carnival in 2014 and were runners-up last year. With players now including offspring of the original founders, the band is known as The Next Generation and continues to work with young people and those with special needs.

From the 15 groups who took part in the first Hackney One Carnival, the number of participants has grown every year so that there are now hundreds of performers from all parts of the community joining together to celebrate and share Hackney’s wonderful diversity of cultures. And of course it would be nothing without the crowds who line the streets in their thousands to cheer on all the performers and create a true carnival atmosphere.

It’s not just about all the spectacular costumes, breathtaking dancing and irresistible music. Every year there are all sorts of activities, such as workshops to make your own carnival headdress, face painting and the opportunity to try food from around the world.

So dig out your feathers, rhinestones and glitter or just come along and blow a whistle on 11 September for Hackney One Carnival. It will be a celebration for all the senses.

By Sally England and Rebecca Odell