ST PAULS CARNIVAL
St Pauls Carnival/festival is an incredibly important time of year to the city of Bristol. It is a time where everyone comes together to celebrate and learn. It is a time to display the magnificence of Afro-Caribbean culture in all of its glory. Carnival is important to everyone in our community, but it is particularly important to young people. Young people massively influence the sounds, dress and feel of carnival each and every year, bringing new dances, outfits and energy to the streets of St Pauls. No two carnivals feel exactly the same, and that is largely due to the young people and what they bring into the community space when it is time to celebrate.
In this section, you will learn about some of the history of Carnival in Bristol as well as carnival’s historical foundations in the Caribbean. You will hear from locals about their experiences and memories, explore some of the sounds that you can expect at Carnival as well as some local businesses you can support in the St Pauls area.
Origins of Carnival In Bristol
As briefly mentioned in the Bus Boycott Section, people from the Caribbean settled in the St Pauls area of Bristol in the 1950s alongside communities from Ireland and Asia. Many people of colour had been invited to the UK to fill the "skills gap" following the Second World War and St Pauls provided affordable housing for the communities looking to make the UK their home base. Bristol itself was not an accommodating space to the new members of its community, and frequent racism was sadly the norm. There was a huge resistance to new cultures settling in Bristol - people were not prized and valued for the magnificence that they possessed and instead, were subject to constant scrutiny and discrimination. This was a huge driving force in creating what is now known as St Pauls Carnival.
In 1968 Bristol-based Caribbean people such as Roy Hackett OBE, Paul Stephenson OBE, Barbara Deterring, Owen Henry as well as Church groups in the city planned to create an event for the community to gather and enjoy themselves in addition to providing as a safe space for people to explore the cultures living within the local area.
The Legacy of Carnival
Fast forward to the present day, and St Pauls carnival is a world-renowned celebration. Tens of thousands of people come to St Pauls when carnival is on to explore and enjoy the best of what Bristol has to offer. To get to this point however, was not an easy road. Carnival has experienced several cancellations over the years and has had to battle media and local government to allow celebrations to go ahead. Local council and police authorities have in the past pushed for shorter night-time celebrations and cut music off...
Voices of Carnival
Below are some stories and thoughts from our community about their carnival experience. If you like longer listens, Team Zazi recorded a podcast last year on carnival that you can listen to here.
"Carnival is the time of year where I feel most seen and validated as a Black person in Bristol"
"Don't get it twisted, everyone is welcome to carnival. Just don't forget what carnival stands for. I feel like carnival has lost its essence over the years"
"I still get my outfit ready weeks in advance and lay out all my clothes the night before. I'm a big man with yutes!!"
"I think for me a good memory of carnival was when me and my dad when out to go see the parade, I remember we was wearing matching shirts"
"Our music, our people
our culture. OUR CITY! That's carnival!"
Carnival and The Caribbean - A Brief History
Caribbean Carnivals as we know them really started to take shape around 1834 after emancipation. It was around this time that the Canboulay* and European Mardi Gras masquerade combined in Trinidad to take on a “modern” form of Carnival that we all love, recognise and appreciate today. Through music, dress, and dance, those previously enslaved now celebrated and authentically displayed their native culture. Carnival as we know it started as a celebration of freedom.
Canboulay - Click Here For a Brief History from "LAVWAY"
Stick-fighting was an important element of early Carnival celebrations, which eventually (unsurprisingly) became banned by British authorities. There were many attempts by the British colonial authorities to suppress and abolish Carnival. This often took the form of media campaigns and laws that tried to control the times of the festival (sound familiar??). Licences were also required for certain masquerades, as well as having strict rules surrounding the numbers of stick fighters allowed to participate in their expressive art form. Sometimes, the British authorities tried to supress carnival by force. People struggled, fought and died to defend their Carnival celebrations. One famous victory was the defeat of a Captain Baker and the special police brought to the island of Trinidad from England to try and suppress the Carnival in 1881.
This act of resistance established the existence and survival of Carnival forever.
Carnival also spread through the Caribbean with each island incorporating their own cultures into their respective celebrations. Antigua, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique, Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands celebrate with local dance, dress, and music at various times throughout the year.
What is important to note is that the origins of Carnival as we have come to know and understand it in Bristol, can be traced directly to resistance. Resisting the grip of an oppressive ideology that tried to restrict our ability to tell our story as a community by attempting to silence our magnificence. Carnival then is an act of activism, which is why each and every time a carnival happens, whether in the Caribbean or on the streets of Bristol, our Caribbean communities resist by existing authentically. That is the beauty of Carnival. That is the beauty of us as a community.
Carnival and Music
When you think of carnival, you often think of music. Music has shaped and moulded carnival experiences around the world for generations - St Paul’s carnival/festival is no different. Here are some (!!) of the most influential sounds, genres and rhythms that grace carnival every year, as well as some information on their history.
Country of Origin: Trinidad and Tobago
Time of Origin: Early 1970’s
Pioneer: Lord Shorty
Soca music is loud, vibrant and joyous. Originating from Trinidad and Tobago in the 70’s, Soca music is a staple sound in Caribbean music culture and is an essential part of the carnival experience. You will most likely hear soca being played during the day at Carnival, especially when the floats come out! Check out the example below!
Country of Origin: Jamaica
Time of Origin: 1960’s
Pioneers: Dandy Livingstone, Bob Marley, Sister Nancy
Reggae music is known all over the world, but it is in places like carnival where it’s sound, vibe and rhythm feels it’s warmest and most impactful. Whilst reggae is easily one of the most popular and identifiable sounds from carribean music culture, it is still an essential part of carnival celebrations. Check the example below!
Country of Origin: Jamaica
Time of Origin: 1990’s
Pioneers: Buju Banton, Vybz Kartel, Beanie Man
Bashment has become a hugely important sound in the carnival space. It’s powerful drum rhythms, simple but incredibly catchy sounds and easily learnable lyrics make Bashment tunes crowd favourites as the day progresses. There are many sounds that could be classed as Bashment/dancehall, and we have included some below...
Country of Origin (UK)
Time of Origin : 1990’s
Pioneers: Shy Fx, General Levi, Roni Size
Jungle has become deeply associated with the city of Bristol, so much so, other cities in the UK call Bristol “Jungle City”!! Combining old school soul sounds, breakbeat drums, and often (but not always!) carribean vocalists, Jungle very quickly grasped the inner city areas of Britain and the youth culture that lived within it. You will often hear jungle riddims when the night sky comes in... Check the example below!
Have you been to Carnival before? How did you feel in this space?
Has your perception of carnival changed at all?
Can you see any similarities in the way Carnival is celebrated here in Bristol and how it is celebrated in the Caribbean?
If your families are from parts of the Caribbean, do they have any stories of carnival from their land? Are they similar of different to yours?
If you could add one thing to carnival here in Bristol what would it be and why?
If you could tell someone close to you one thing about what you have learned here, what would it be and why?
Carnival is deeper than just celebrations and good vibes. It is a time where the community connects with our ancestors, friends and family to celebrate our magnificence. It is a time for us to exist authentically and show the world who we are and what we bring to it. We hope in this section you have been exposed to some new ideas and information about carnival, and if you are thinking about attending the next celebration here in Bristol, we will see you there!
Want to add something to this section?
Get in touch! This is your project as much as it is ours. We do not claim to have covered everything in this project; we want you to come and get involved to! This our history, this is our story and this is our project. Let’s work!
Support Local Businesses
Need some suggestions of places to check out in the St Pauls area of Bristol? We've got you covered!
3. Hidden Corner Cafe (Cafe and Bookshop)
5. The Green Melon (Green Grocer)
6. W Singh Stores (Corner Shop)
7. Grovenor Convenience Stores
8. Soomar Supermarket
9. Top Shop (Convenience Store)
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