The roots of Carnival lie in the melting pot of the West Indies. It is a combination of the masked Carnivals held by wealthy French colonists to mark the end of Lent (Carnevale – ‘to put away meat’ during Lent), the spring time singing and dancing ‘Cariso’ celebrations promoted by the Spanish, and the emancipation celebrations that followed the abolition of slavery. Carnival is a place for fun as well as for political activism.
People from Africa were enslaved and sold through trade to the West Indies during the eighteenth century. They carried with them their traditions of song, dance and costume. The oral story traditions and spiritual rhythms run through Carnival music, and the Caribbean costumes drew inspiration from African and European masks, textiles and stories.
Colourful costume at Leeds West Indian Carnival
‘Carnival reminds us of our roots, the struggle our ancestors had to bear, the oppression of our leaders, and great role models, but not in vain, for while we continue to celebrate carnival their achievements will remain with us forever’, Arthur France, 1994:
Dancer at Leeds West Indian Carnival
‘Carnival is not just a legalized rave – lest we forget, millions lost their lives in pursuit of their liberty. Today, carnival best expresses the strategies that the people of the Caribbean and black British citizens have for speaking about themselves and their relationship with the world, their relationship with history, their relationship with tradition, their relationship with nature and their relationship with God. Carnival is the embodiment of their sense of being and purpose and its celebration is an essential and profoundly self-affirming gesture of a people’, Dr Geraldine Connor, ethnomusicologist and creator of Carnival Messiah, 2007.
Listen to Khadjah talk about where the traditions around Carnival come from (from 00.00 - 00.47).