This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Leicester Caribbean Carnival 2012 kicks off tomorrow
The streets of Leicester will be filled with the sounds, sights and smells of the Caribbean tomorrow, when the annual carnival gets under way.
Now in its 27th year, the Leicester Caribbean Carnival is one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the country.
Championing Caribbean culture and heritage, the carnival is a flurry of brightly-coloured costumes, floats, dance troupes and traditional food.
Set against a backdrop of Caribbean soca music, the event attracts more than 100,000 people every year.
Juliet Brade, coordinator of the carnival, explained the event is first and foremost a celebration of the emancipation of slaves.
“A lot of people really don’t know what the carnival is about,” she said. “It’s an expression of people of the Caribbean, expressing themselves and keeping the culture alive.
“It has always been on the first Saturday in August - emancipation day. People celebrate the freedom, although it was not really complete freedom as such.”
Ms Brade continued: “People came to the Caribbean from Africa and they were enslaved by the English, French, Dutch etc. If you were lighter-skinned you were hired to work in the household, and if you were darker-skinned you became a field slave.
“The house slaves heard everything in the house, so on Sundays, the one day they were free to do as they pleased, the house slaves would join the field slaves and they would mimic what happened in the household. They used to dance, do flamenco etc.
“They put their own spin on it, and as time went by you had amalgamation of African tradition mixed with Dutch, Spanish - the powers that be at the time. It changed constantly.”
Ms Brade heaped praise on the local community, and said without them the carnival could not go ahead.
“People from the community put their hand in their pockets to make it work,” she said.
“We are pulling it together but it’s a community-wide event. So you cannot say we are organising the event - so many people are important to us to achieve our objectives.
“People come from all over, it’s not just about Leicester. It’s the largest multi-cultural event in the Midlands, but it attracts people from all over.”
Turning to the financial difficulties the carnival has faced, Ms Brade said: “The costumes cost us an arm and a leg. The expense to the groups is very, very high, so they really cannot do some of the things that they would like.
“We are struggling because we are one of the groups that have been targeted for cuts from city funding, so we have to find somewhere to fund the shortfall.”
But the hard work has paid off - the carnival is back on the move again after a lack of funds saw last year's event restricted to Victoria Park.
“People will be doing all kinds of things; they enjoy food, see friends they haven’t met for many years,” Ms Brade explained.
Some 42 young people who for months have made costumes at the carnival arts centre are due to take part, as are three carnival queens and a number of performers.
At least 100,000 people are expected to attend the parade, and another 20,000 are set to be at the park. “But they won’t all come at once, they come and go, they do their own thing,” said Ms Brade.
“We have booked sun,” she added. “The rain has never stopped the carnival. One year it was raining and people didn’t care if they got wet. I’ve been soaked through before. We’re immune to rain,” she joked.
Tomorrow’s festivities kick off at 11am, with the opening ceremony taking place at 12.30. The parade sets off around the city immediately afterwards.
Organisers encourage carnival-goers to donate at least £1 to clearly identified collectors on the day, to help cover the growing cost of the event. Collectors’ buckets will carry the Leicester Caribbean Carnival Logo.
To find out more about the carnival, visit www.leicestercaribbeancarnival.co.uk