Born out of racial tensions, Notting Hill Carnival has a rich history. But as it moves online, what can we expect this year?

Toyin Owoseje, CNNPublished 29th August 2020
Performers in costume take part in the carnival on the main Parade day of the Notting Hill Carnival in west London on August 26, 2019.
(CNN) — Vibrant parades, feathered dancers, infectious live music, and the aroma of delectable Afro-Caribbean cuisine -- these are the things many people look forward to when they descend on the streets of west London during the UK's August holiday weekend.
But, for the first time in its 54-year history, Notting Hill Carnival will be an entirely virtual affair after falling victim to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The annual street party, which was originally scheduled for August 30 and 31 and normally draws more than a million people to the city's Notting Hill, Westbourne Park, and Kensington districts, was canceled in May in response to restrictions on mass events.
Instead, one of Britain's biggest cultural events will be live streamed online so disappointed revelers can still celebrate the carnival culture and arts at home.
Announcing "Notting Hill Carnival 2020: Access All Areas," organizers have promised a three-day celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture like no other.
The virtual incarnation of the event "founded to bring people together during trying times" kicks off on Saturday.
The popular carnival attracts about one million poeple annually.
The popular carnival attracts about one million poeple annually.
Peter Summers/Getty Images
"We provide the entertainment and people can get in the carnival spirit from the comfort of their own homes," Notting Hill Carnival executive director Matthew Philip told CNN.

The carnival's new look

During the long weekend, a vast array of exclusive performances will be broadcast online alongside films celebrating the vibrant food, dance, music and culture. The carnival festivities will air on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The program's emphasis will be more on the traditional disciplines of the carnival: Masquerade, steel bands, the sound systems, calypso and the DJs, according to Philip.
Philip said Covid-19 -- which also derailed a string of summer calendar events including the Glastonbury festival and the Olympic games -- provided a rare opportunity to open Notting Hill Carnival to a global audience.
The alternative event, hosted live from a studio by radio presenters DJ Ace and Remel London, will educate people and highlight the pioneers that helped to create the weekend many have grown to love.
"I believe it's going to be a historic moment for [the] carnival," Philip said.

Why is Notting Hill Carnival so significant?

Notting Hill Carnival first began in 1966, organized by Rhaune Laslett, who wanted to create a symbol of interracial tolerance amid post-war racial tensions.
The carnival's official website states that the late activist's intention was to celebrate the Caribbean culture and encourage the integration of the neighborhood's diverse community.
More than five decades later, the message still resonates.
Acclaimed chef and carnival ambassador Levi Roots, who once served up his famous sauces as a stallholder on Westbourne Park Road, told CNN that, while it is impossible to replicate the "infectious atmosphere" of a live event, it would be a shame not to pay homage to the carnival's rich history during these challenging times.
"Carnival is [a] time for rejoicing and celebration, regardless of what format it takes," he said.
Afrobeats artist, Bace God, who has been attending Notting Hill Carnival since he was a teenager, was initially skeptical about festivities going online, preferring the focus to be on the event's return to the street next year. He has since reconsidered.
"Most people that perform on the floats that I love to watch spend up to a year rehearsing and making those beautiful costumes," he told CNN.
"The Caribbean culture has influenced food and the music scene so much in the UK that it must be celebrated somehow. Going virtual will give us the opportunity to honor an annual tradition that has changed the UK in so many great ways and give those that work behind the scenes the opportunity to still share some of the magic during challenging times."

Financial impact

Notting Hill Carnival attracts people from across the globe, and according to a study from 2002, it generated an estimated £93 million ($123 million) in one year.
For those who make it happen, the cancellation is a devastating blow.
Antonia Fender, a committee member of the Heritage social arts and dance group, understands going virtual was the safest move in light of the pandemic but said the financial impact of canceling the event cannot be ignored.
"Having it virtual is great for those who want to engage in that way and watch online but for the masses of us who are physically there year in, year out, spend months working on our costumes, planning hair and accessories, who listen to the music regularly and dancing our hearts out it won't be the same," she said.
Revelers pack Ladbroke Grove during the opening day of the 2019 Notting Hill Carnival.
Revelers pack Ladbroke Grove during the opening day of the 2019 Notting Hill Carnival.
David Cliff/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Nevertheless, Philip maintains that organizers have a responsibility to protect the Black communities which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. He said placing further burden on frontline health workers, who are already stretched, simply wasn't an option.
Notting Hill Carnival works very closely with St John Ambulance and Houda al Sharifi, director of public health in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where the carnival is located, previously stated that, given the nature of the carnival, maintaining social distancing would be impossible.
"We are already more prone to be affected adversely [by coronavirus] and when we are affected adversely, it's the same communities that have to deal with it," Philip said. "Now is the time for us to be more responsible and get a lid or a handle on this."
"Notting Hill Carnival 2020: Access All Areas" will be set against a backdrop of heightened focus on racial inequality in Britain following global Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"Carnival is a celebration of Black lives and culture," Roots added. "This is not a new theme. I just hope that the public gets behind this more than ever and let us truly celebrate Black lives."
So, what does the future hold for the second largest carnival in the world?
Philip is confident that Notting Hill Carnival will return back to the streets when "it's safe to do so."
"Once you get infected with the carnival spirit, it stays with you," Philip said.