LONDON CELEBRATES CREOLENESS
NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL
One is struck by the flamboyant explosion of forms, colours and movement. Since 1964, it happens each year at the Notting Hill Carnival, west London. This year the festival has earned itself yet another reason to be qualified the greatest festival organized in Europe, with attendance between 500,000 to 1 million visitors during summer. I was lucky to be there at least one day out of the carnival weekend, from 29th to 31st August. The sun decided to bless performers and revelers as they took over the streets of the otherwise chic area of the City of London. A total transformation, from the long grey months of restrained English lifestyle, to the loudest extravaganza! By right, the creators of the festival maintain a strong Caribbean presence. But I was impressed by the enthusiasm of people from all sorts of background, converging towards this artificial island full of exoticism and nostalgia, in the midst of the capital city. Not only the average British person led by the younger generation, but also people from Thailand or Morroco find more than an opportunity to taste or sell food: they want to be part of this human cultural mix. One key characteristic of Creoleness is that simple: no boundaries. Too bad that the English press pays unfair credit to the organizers as, each year, there is a systematic reference to the number of police arrests, if not to the absence of violence… Having said that, the Notting Hill Carnival is here to stay. From the mayor of London, down to the improvised trader selling whistles and plastic trumpets, everyone wants the event to highlight the success of racial integration in the capital. More celebration than affirmation. Fun for fun’s sake. The participants themselves may spend up to ten months in the year, carefully designing, sewing, creating mythical creatures, from the sea world or from distant continents, if not from their own fertile imagination. Yes, the sound of the music bellowed by tons of equipment may hit you as excessive. But then, the merry behaviour of so many leaves no onlooker indifferent. Even the uniformed bobby blushes as a scintillating creature gives him a peck on the cheek. Indeed, the female shapes and movements seem to preside over the festivities, with such freedom and exuberance that have become more than a mere attraction: yet another statement of what Creoleness could also mean: a powerful feminine presence…
CREOLE DAY 2009
Then, on Sunday 27th September, another event of significance: the celebration of Kreyol Day 2009. Compared to the Notting Hill Festival, a much, much lower key affair. But the organizers, MBMB, is a French Caribbean body that means business. Since 2001, a similar event has been held in London and the organizers have earned themselves a charitable status, as they strive to forward their aim: Bringing Creole Communities Together. Haiti is the country that inspires the intentions, as the oldest independent Creole island and certainly one of the poorest countries of the western hemisphere. Efforts of the MBMB aim at taking assistance to the needy communities of Haiti, specially the young unable to access basic education. I attended the celebrations at the renowned venue since 1929 as a forum for intellectual exchanges: Conway Hall in Central London. The programme is balanced and without pretension; the attendance is well behaved. People are effectively more aware of the occasion to network and reconnect, than yet another loud opportunity to party. No particular form of expression takes over the full attention: even the star of the day, a singing sensation from Martinique, Sonia Dersion, delivers on the bare stage an acoustic performance full of friendliness. MBMB deserves the credit for its ability to motivate the Creole communities of London towards higher goals. Modest means do not preclude generous visions. In his closing speech, the chairman spells out the idea of a gathering of UK Creole communities in either Trafalgar Square or Hyde Park for 2012. Whether he will succeed depends upon those who was there to listen. We certainly heard his call and wish him well.
Daniel Labonne . September 2009. London.