Friday, 4 September 2015

Friday 4th September: Notting Hill Carnival - Dedication to Russell Henderson MBE

2015 is the 50th anniversary of NottingHill Carnival.  As there is debate over the actual year that the fete was founded, it has been spread across three years with the celebration dedicated to a different aspect each year .  Last year was all about the steel pan, this year focused on the emergence of carnival with the family day and next year will be all about Mas (costume).  Only a few days before this year's Carnival one of the seminal pioneers passed away, age 91.  Russell Henderson MBE came to London from Trinidad in 1951 as a young jazz musician and started up "The Russ Henderson Steel Band".   In 1964 activist Rhaune Laslette held a children's pageant in Portabello and invited Russell's band to open the event.  The players of the hand-held pans started to walk to take the music along the gathered crowds.  This, as legend has it, was the beginning of what we now know as the procession through the streets of Notting Hill today.  
At Monday's finale there were dedications to Russell's memory with his most recent band "Panectar" leading a tribute to honour his role in the shaping of the Carnival.  Here you can also see my photo from Sunday's opening show with calypsonian Alexander D Great  performing a song he wrote for the dedication with the lyrics:

"With your inspiration and dedication, Russell Henderson will always be the Pan Man"

The carnival initially came about from a community coming together and taking action to strengthen the relationships and support within their neighbourhood.  It's this pure essence that the committee currently want to reinstate, so that whilst we celebrate its 50th birthday, we can bring back that purpose.  The emphasis should be on how the event brings people together to volunteer over the course of the year to put on the show.  Its not just a party.  Its about getting young people social and creative to learn skills passed down to continue the art and tradition.  Its about each borough having its own band and inspiring the next generation to get involved.  This is the message and one I'm going to continue investigating, exploring and sharing from here till next year ................. and what a lush prospect is that!  I'm looking forward to the year of MAS in 2016!!!!   

(Thank you Chantal Des Vignes & Justin Des Vignes for the two original archive photos from a J'Ouvert parade with Russell pictured centre)

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