Perhaps second only to Notting Hill in the UK, St. Paul’s carnival is one of the most hotly anticipated days in the Bristol calendar every year, and 2019’s iteration is set to be no different.
Due to its proximity to the coast and historical standing as important port city, Bristol has, for a long time, had a burgeoning Afro-Caribbean community. It is one of the main reasons why the location is so vibrant, in terms of food, music and just general culture. Over the years it has been a hotspot for Reggae and sound-system music, being one of the essential springboards for these things to properly break into the UK cultural consciousness.
It is no surprise then that St. Paul’s carnival is so well revered – the ideas behind it are engrained into the city’s DNA. As a celebration you can trace its roots back to its beginnings in 1968, and it has no flourished into a properly large (and incredibly fun) gathering of people from all walks of life. Like carnivals from across the world, it is an incredibly important event for bringing people together, and due to its nature it becomes very inclusive indeed.
For instance, most of the action is out happening on the streets, therefore it is quite hard for anyone to really feel too left out. Moreover, the original event was borne out of the aim “to create an event to help improve relationships between the European, African, Caribbean and Asian inhabitants of the area”, and as such the level of multiculturalism present is truly magnificent. In an era where we are again seeing so much division in the UK, events like this should be well celebrated; they can often be the metaphorical glue that keeps us all together.
Unfortunately St. Paul’s carnival hasn’t exactly had the easiest of lives, repeatedly failing to acquire crucial funding during its 50+ years of existence, a fact that sadly resulted in there being more than a few time where it did not end up going ahead. Indeed, not only did 2018 mark the celebration’s 50 year anniversary, it was also the first carnival in over three years, and was therefore a remarkably special event that reinstalled Bristol’s passion for the event. Now receiving funding help from Arts Council England, the organisers managed to pull off a wonderful return and anniversary celebration.
There well over two dozen different sound-systems set up throughout the day, causing some exhilarating street parties to pop up all over the place in much the same vein as Notting Hill. Due to extensive cooperation with Bristol Council these were more or less also saved from ever being shut down by the police, a big step that was not always possible in previous years. You just cannot get better than dancing with a load of the city’s inhabitants out on the streets to a diverse array of multicultural music. It is something that brings the whole city together in such a beautiful manner.
Not only this but the carnival parade is highly fun experience for all groups and social backgrounds. The vibrancy of the colours and costumes on offer can make you forget you are even in the often-dreary British Isles, and it is a crucial education in cosmopolitanism for many young people. You just cannot help but smile and be somewhat awe-struck by the aesthetic levels that the performers go into. Some of the costumes are beyond impressive, and a lovely part of this is that many local schools and youth organisations are invited to take part, further promoting an ever-present spirit of inclusiveness.
The 2019 iteration of St. Pauls looks to build on the fantastic work done last year, half for everybody’s enjoyment, but also in order for it to continue running in the many years that follow. Newly appointed figure-head La Toya McAllister-Jones will be the new person in charge, formerly head of operations at the very well respected Ujima Radio. This year also sees the carnival adopt a new theme, namely that of the Windrush Generation in an endeavour called “Our Journey”. This is an important topic now more than ever, with so many government scandals over the last couple of years, it has never been more important to respect the story of the thousands of emigrants from Jamaica that were crucial in revitalizing the country after WWII.
After all, if it wasn’t for the pulsating music, art, food, and culture that these people brought from the Caribbean St. Paul’s would not be a thing, and you could argue that the whole city would be a lot less exciting. A big part of the 2019 will focus on the SS Empire Windrush, the shop on which many Jamaicans made the journey to the UK after a royal invitation to work. In typical fashion the theme will bring together schools from across Bristol, as well as various organisations of art and culture. It really is a wonderful celebration, and Bristol Council as well as Arts Council England should be warmly thanked for their vital roles in enabling it to happen.
The 2019 theme will chart the many challenges faced by the Windrush generation from the 1960s to contemporary Britain, in a story that has its fair share of difficult moments. Racism, for instance, was a huge stumbling block in the country’s evolution towards being a truly cosmopolitan society, and will rightly be a focus throughout the celebration. Still though, the prevailing aura of St. Paul’s has been, and will always be a sense of togetherness, celebration, and community spirit. Whilst some topics need to be explored from their negative sides, it does not stop the whole day from being an overwhelmingly joyous affair, one massive reason behind its enduring popularity.
Last year an estimated 100,000 people revelled in the festivities, finding supreme enjoyment in the many carnival floats and sound-system stages that make up the event. Due to its success many predict that 2019 will be even bigger, with the potential to be the biggest mass participated event in the Bristol calendar. The city has long been known as a beacon for arts, music and culture, St. Paul’s is one of the defining factors in this, and is truly a phenomenon that simply must be protected.
In an ideal world the music and festivities could continue out on the streets well into the night, however unfortunately the bureaucratic nature of 21st Century England means this just isn’t feasible. Not to worry though, several of Bristol’s most popular clubbing establishments regular run after-parties that give the community a chance to really let their hair down. The powerhouse Motion, for instance, are running one of their exceedingly popular Free Raves, and for a club that can often cost upwards of £20 to get in, the chance to do so for free should not go amiss. There are also parties going on in other higly regarded clubs such as The Black Swan and Blue Mountain, one thing is for certain – St. Paul’s 2019 is going to be anything but dull. You would be a fool to miss it!
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