Notting Hill Carnival has unveiled plans to take celebrations online as the country continues to recover from the coronavirus.
Described by organisers as “the greatest celebration of freedom and culture that there is”, people will be able to stream music, art, and food content across the August Bank Holiday on the carnival’s website to make up for the traditional celebration being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual street party showcases predominantly black Caribbean and African traditions and culture, and has been based in the Notting Hill area of Kensington, London, since the early 1960s.
Matthew Phillip, Notting Hill Carnival‘s executive director, told Sky News he hoped people would take away a deeper understanding of the event’s history than they would during normal times.
“What you’ll be able to see by watching these channels would take you 10 years of visits to the real life carnival to be able to see,” he said.
“This is going to be the first time that you can see everything, whether it’s a masquerade band, steel band, Brazilian band, sound system, or artists that will be performing on stages.”
Mr Phillip added that he hoped the digital festival would also shine a spotlight on the veterans of the carnival.
“I think they shouldn’t be able to walk the streets of Notting Hill on carnival day without being mobbed, because they’ve actually created what we have,” he said.
“They’re all very humble people.”
Broadcasting online across two channels, the carnival this year has the opportunity to be beamed into homes right across the world – a chance to for all to see how London parties.
Mr Phillip added: “It’s a unique event… It’s free for one, and the beauty of it is the way it’s grown.
“There isn’t one artistic director for Notting Hill Carnival. Each of the sound system owners, the steel band leaders, the masquerade designers, the Calypsonians, individual artists that get involved – they are the artistic directors.”
The normal experience is a thoroughly sensory one – attendees can expect to hear steel drums in the street, to see bright costumes, and to smell and taste food like jerk chicken and ackee with saltfish.
It also usually provides black-owned businesses, particularly from the food and hospitality sector, a chance to make money from hungry festival-goers.
This year, Notting Hill Carnival hopes to spotlight Caribbean and African food businesses from right across the UK, and will encourage the public to cook along and buy regularly from black-owned stores.
“As a community, we need to start thinking about the economics of things and supporting each other’s businesses,” added Mr Phillip.
“Hopefully we’ll get everyone over that weekend enjoying the online experience, enjoying the flavours of it, as well as the visuals and the music.”
This year, Notting Hill is partnering with streaming service Spotify to highlight the music of the carnival, as well as podcasts about the event’s history and issues black people face today.
But – with discussions about systemic racism continuing after the latest Black Lives Matter marches – Mr Phillip said other major companies need to do more than simply “promoting” black culture.
“They should be engaging with black people to be a part of their management structures. It’s not just about giving people token jobs,” he said, adding that the carnival has always been a form of protest.
“I’ve not been to any other event where you can see so many different people from different walks of life. Rich, poor, black, white, whatever religion you can think of, and they’re all at ease with each other.
“It’s the most diverse event that I can think of.”
Digital Notting Hill Carnival streams online from Saturday 29 August to Monday 31 August