Thursday, 25 August 2011

Manchester and Leeds: The demise or not of steelbands in the Carnival Parade: A Tale of Two Cities

I saw it in the papers: No steelband in the Leeds Carnival Parade. Organisers blame the riots.

[This is us: Foxwood, Doves, SteelRising at Manchester two weeks ago]
Well, there never was going to be a steelband on a float at Leeds Carnival this year. By the time we phoned the organisers to check the arrangements there was nothing to arrange. The only steelband would be on the stage, and it was not our turn this year. I was told troupes don’t want to dance behind the quieter, relatively slower sounds of a steelband. And indeed I remember meeting one of the carnival queens over a decade ago in a special school where we both were teaching that term. I said we need a troupe for our band, and she said “I’m not jumping up behind no steelband” I was taken aback, even mortified by the vehemence with which she spoke.

Then this week on Radio 4 Kwame Kwei-Armah was explaining in his history of London Carnival how the sound systems arrived in order to include the watching but not participating Jamaicans and other islanders in Carnival.

Thus an uneasy tension ever since between steelbands and sound systems. What’s to do about it?

Well for a start, don’t blame the riots, and for a second, don’t put a spokesperson on Radio Five Live saying it’s not usual to have a steelband in the Leeds parade. If this was the case, which it isn’t, for the second biggest UK West Indian Carnival this isn’t something you would want to broadcast.

Four years ago the organisers of newly reformed Manchester Carnival made a massive effort to gets steelbands back in parade. They got five of us including Foxwood/Doves/SteelRising and new World from Leeds, and North Stars from Huddersfield. And four years later, they are still getting them in. You don’t have to be older generation to love steelbands. And you don’t have to be West Indian, or just Trinidadian. Along with reggae music, steelbands must be one of the most popular imports from the West Indies to UK, and indeed Europe. There’s room for us both.

Here's two pictures of Lizzie on floats at Manchester and Huddersfield.

This year Manchester experienced big city centre riots; on Wednesday the police cancelled the parade; on Thursday the troupes persuaded them to reinstate the parade; by which time all but four of the the lorries and their drivers had other jobs. I managed to get to recover all but three of my players and we played in the arena, nestling between sound systems. Better than not playing at all, and actually, it was ace.

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