I have several roles in Elimu; from sweeping the floors of the Mas Camp and locking up at night to writing reports and making applications to get money for the band. On the road, I have to be ready to make any repairs to costumes, get the band ready for the judging point and try to resolve any problems as we parade along the streets of Notting Hill.
Elimu was set up in the 1970s as a community education centre for young people in Westminster. ‘Elimu’ is a Swahili word meaning ‘knowledge’ or ‘education’ because we worked with secondary school students who were truanting from school or who were at school but not paying any attention and not achieving.
The Carnival band started in1980 when we made an 8mm film on Notting Hill Carnival that we called ‘High Mas’. Our senior youth worker, Patricia Jaggs, had this vision to have our own Carnival Band to participate in the Notting Hill Carnival that was on our doorstep. Making the film resulted in an increased interest among the young people to get involved in the Carnival.
We decided the best way for us to participate was to join the Carnival procession with music and costumes and t-shirts.
No one had ever participated in the Carnival as dancers and wearing costumes. This was new to all of us.
This did not stop us from trying.
I remember with great fondness the efforts we made with little or no money to print t-shirts, make costumes, encourage the young people to wear them, hire a steel band to play the music and get some of the parents to prepare food and drink for us.
After more than 30 years of doing this, I still enjoy our participation in the Carnival and still look forward to it every year.
My best time comes on the morning of the first day of Carnival – Sunday.
Walking towards the Mas Camp seeing the lorries delivering goods to the shops and barriers being erected by the Police, there is expectation in the air. For us, there is an immense sense of relief that you have in fact finished what you set out to do and you are now ready to start the Carnival.
The music begins and there is an immense sense of relief that there are no interruptions, no failure of the generator and no malfunctions of any costumes. The music lorry begins to move slowly away from your mas camp and the crowd emits a roar. The Carnival has begun.
We are very fortunate that we start off the Carnival very near the Judging Point; the place where the judges are seated to decide how good is our presentation.
So we do not have too much time to make any changes.
Once we pass the Judging Point, the major challenge facing us is coping with the crowds along the route. Many people want to take pictures of the costumes. Many are tourists and so want to take photos with the Mas Players.
But for many years, we have had to work very hard to prevent groups of young people who do not understand Carnival from entering the band and disrupting our performance or running through the crowds creating panic among the spectators.
Our Band is managed by a Board of Directors who are responsible for the planning of our participation in the Carnival and for making sure that everything is in place and to make that participation enjoyable.
The first think in this planning for participation is agreeing a theme of our presentation. And because we are working with young people, that theme needs to be attractive to the young people that we are recruiting.
For the last 14 years, we are very fortunate to have had a partnership with the Paddington Arts Centre. This means that the Mas Camp, the engine room for our preparations, is known to everybody every year. Nothing changes.
The next step is to commission somebody or several people to design costumes based on that theme, and once there is an agreement on what that theme is, to produce pictures and drawings that can be used to promote the band, by way of encouraging people to come and choose a costume and pay for it.
Then we need to recruit skilled personnel and volunteers to translate that design on paper into 3 dimensional form, so we can actually make the costumes, which means cutting materials, sewing, sticking, bending, constructing. This needs to be done in a timely and structured fashion so that you finish at least one week before carnival – at least that is the vision in my head and my mind; however we usually finish on the morning of carnival.
After Carnival we have a discussion or a review of what went well, and what did not go well, and therefore what are the lessons to be learnt for the following year.
Funding is always an issue for the band. Everything we do has to be paid for and so it is an important fact that each year we must generate sufficient income to meet all the costs of creating a Carnival band.
We get our money from grants, sales of t-shirts and costumes, donations from wealthy individuals, sponsorship from companies, support in kind from volunteers and contributions from local people.
In 2014, we had two themes. The first, Carnival Sunday, children’s day, the theme was Carnival Mayhem: the idea of carnival as a chaotic festival that involves everybody and everything. It swirling around like a whirlpool and that’s the Mayhem of Carnival.
On Carnival Monday which is the Adult Carnival Day our theme was ‘Black in the Union Jack’. The Union Jack colours Red, White & Blue are representative and iconic of British society. We as black people have contributed by coming to this country for many, many years and helped with the creation and development of this society. What we are saying is we are the black in the Union Jack, and we have identified seven people who have made contributions to British society and we want to commemorate these seven individuals. These individuals are taken from a wide range of areas and disciplines - academia, the transport system, nurses, gladiators and fashion.
To me Elimu is a broad church that provides an opportunity to bring people together; all the diversity of London working together for that general goal of celebrating the arts. It is fortunate that we are situated within an arts centre so there is already an ambience of artistic achievement, and therefore to fit into that gives me the greatest satisfaction.
It enables us to take the art and the different Carnival art forms to higher levels. Most importantly, we are involving a full range of our community wherever they come from in terms of their heritage, different islands, different nations, different ethnicities, different cultures. That for me is a greatest sense of achievement. It reflects our motto: Each One, Teach One.