After two years off due to the pandemic, the party was back: Carnival returned to Nothing Hill.
Underground and overground, there was a buzz in West London. Empty Maggie bottles lined every tube platform from Ladbroke Grove to Westbourne Park. In the streets, smoking oil-drums lured passers-by with the sweetness of barbecued jerk chicken. And as the floats passed, your chest boomed like an 808 and you couldn’t help but give in to the sounds resonating with your body.
These are the sights, smells and sounds of Notting Hill Carnival, the second largest of its type in the world after Rio. Thanks to the tireless work of Trinidad and Tobago-born activist Claudia Jones, Carnival has fixed itself over the years as the cultural jewel in the UK’s crown, an August bank holiday weekend spectacular that primarily speaks to a collective Caribbean identity and honours the legacies of – and foundations laid by – the diaspora here in the UK.
Just as importantly, it also signifies one of the world’s biggest celebrations of Black heritage, pride and joy. Unfortunately, in the weeks spent anticipating its return, many musical turf wars ensued. There was a lot of intense social media discourse about what “should” and “shouldn’t” be heard or played at Carnival. Might the UK’s surging love for Nigerian afrobeats and the buzz around South African amapiano somehow overshadow Caribbean sounds like soca, dancehall and reggae?
But musically speaking, Notting Hill Carnival has always been a citizen of the world – you’ve been able to hear genres with Black origins like rap, house and jungle blasting from Carnival’s chest-rattling soundsystems for years.
In fact, the music policy at Notting Hill Carnival has become, over time, more borderless. So maybe it’s just as important to highlight its routes as much as its roots. This year, the event showcased all the beautiful journeys a sound can take before it reaches our ears – from London to Lagos, Portmore to Peckham, via South Africa, Sierra Leone and everywhere in between.
So, in celebration, here are some of the crowd-thrilling bangers that set the vibes for Carnival season.
Ding Dong – Ravers Gas
The ultimate energy starter for Carnival. This is the hyperactive dancehall track that led to incredible scenes of crowds charging from left to right, captured via many an Insta story.
JW & Blaze – Palance
What “Gas” is to Jamaicans, “Palance” is to Trinidadians and Tobagoans, the heartbeat and official homeowners of Carnival.
Destra – It’s Carnival (ft. Machel Montano)
“Start to whine start to whine, start to whine up now because… IT’S CARNIVAL!” Marching orders given, need we say anymore?
Vybz Kartel & Vanessa Bling (Gaza Slim) – One Man
The unofficial ladies’ anthem. If you listen closely enough, you might hear more progressive renditions upping this count to two, five or even 12, man. Love that for us!
Spice – So Mi Like It
Another anthem tailor-made for all the whiners of waists at Carnival. It’s provocative and it gets the people going.
Skillibeng – Whap Whap (ft. F.S.)
Brrrrrp. Mr Universe had everyone in a chokehold. Not only did I hear Whap Whap plenty of times across the Sunday and Monday, Skilli’s other hits – Brik Pan Brik, Badman, Crocodile Teeth – were on regular rotation, too.
Wizkid – Essence (ft. Tems)
Flowing with nothing but good and infinitely cool summer vibes, Wizkid and Tems really gave us the love song of the century with this one.
Sneakbo – Touch Ah Button remix ft. Vybz Kartel
Name a more iconic diasporic link-up, we’ll wait. Has a similar effect to the National Anthem (Talking Da Hardest) when it drops at Carnival.
Pheelz – Finesse (ft. BNXN)
Ahhh, finesse! This smooth afrobeats anthem is perfect for that end-of-summer vibe. See also: the Finesse dancehall remix. Its Folake Challenge is currently all the rage with Gen Z’ers on TikTok.
Young Stunna, DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small – Adiwele
Shout out to the Mzansi massive over at the amapiano stage, which was hosted by Piano People. This one really went off. Haibo!
Bunny Mack – Let Me Love You
An OG classic brimming with nostalgia from my childhood. It’s a Calypso joint from a Sierra Leonean music hero, a fusionist love letter to Africa and the Caribbean.
Alison Hinds – Faluma /Makalele
This Bajan legend is dubbed the Caribbean Queen of Soca. Alison Hinds re-introduced us to roots with Faluma – a song spoken mostly in the language of the Saamaka tribe in Suriname.
Patrice Roberts – Mind My Business
Another Carnival staple from a Trinidad-born soca star.
Burna Boy – Last Last
The ultimate crowd-pleaser. Last Last is the undisputed summer anthem of 2022, and so of course it was making the rounds on every Carnival soundsystem. See also: the Last Last dancehall remix featuring Vybz Kartel’s Virginity as a backing riddim – the sonic pairing I never knew I needed.