Bobby Babylon Flexes Muscle, But Europe’s Biggest Street Jam Raves On

Naysayers be damned, London showed its true colors at the 2011 Notting Hill Carnival. Scheduled for August 28 and 29th, the date came just three weeks after a firestorm of rioting that spread across Britain following the death of Mark Duggan, an Anglo-Jamaican youth who was shot by police in North London. The wounds from that traumatic spasm of “Anarchy in the UK“—which resulted in 5 deaths, 16 injuries, and over 3000 arrests—will not heal overnight. Nor will we soon forget the ugly divisive rhetoric unleashed by the flareup of violence. But nothing brings people together like a good rave. As London prepared to host Europe’s largest outdoor festival, the city’s reputation was at stake, as was the delicate balance of cultures and classes that makes communities like Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill so special. “Let the true spirit of London shine through,” mayor Boris Johnson appealed before the festivities commenced. “It’s right that the carnival goes ahead so we can show the world that the overwhelming majority of London’s people are decent, law-abiding citizens who respect the law, love their city and want to celebrate our vibrant, diverse culture.”

On the first day of carnival, a bright and sunny Sunday, some 6,500 of Scotland Yard’s finest flooded the streets, assisted by horses and helicopters. As a result the turnout was a bit lighter than most years, but there was more than enough foghorn and whistle blowing to make up for the diminished numbers. Thanks to some nice and decent selections courtesy of champion sounds like Tubby’s and Sir Coxsone and Venture Sound, the vibes were extra-nice—but behind the good times, there was a palpable sense that if anything bad kicked off, the very institution of carnival itself might be at risk. Although the papers reported one stabbing in Ladbroke Grove, and some 160 arrests (down from last year’s figure of 243), we ain’t see nuffin’ wrong. Carnival in London isn’t so much about floats and parades, it’s more of a block party vibe with lots of walking around to check out neighborhood sound systems blasting rhythm & blues and ska, reggae, dancehall, soca, grime, funky house and a lil’ bit of hip hop. (The only unrest we experienced came when the selector dropped Rick Ross’s “B.M.F.” and set off a small stampede.) Roaming the streets with sunglasses, funny hats, plastic cups, and bottles of liquor, sexy revelers indulged in a little boozy bump and grind. Everywhere we went, folks were doing the Migraine Skank. And when Gracious K said “Show me how you get down!” everybody did just that. It’s a London fing. [CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE]

Top 5 UK Tunes of Notting Hill Carnival 2011:

#5 Sticky & Ms. Dynamite “Booo!” Even vintage cuts had the block bouncing.

#4 Boy Better Know “Too Many Man” We need some more girls in here.

#3 Stylo G “Call Mi A Yardie” We smoke weed we nah sniff Charlie.

#2 Donae’o “Party Hard” Watch out when the bass drops.

#1 Gracious K “Migraine Skank” Show me how you get down.

In order to keep the carnival alive, organizers struck a deal with police and agreed to shut down the bacchanal early this year. A sudden rain shower just before sunset sealed the deal, sending everybody scurrying home—or to the private after-party of their choice (we chilled by the Globe and then hit the Mau Mau). The clouds soon parted, unfurling a dazzling rainbow over the trash-strewn streets. See you next year.