Today is 30 April 2021, four months until the Leeds West Indian Carnival is due to take place and all is quiet. Usually by April carnival costume designers and costume makers would be working hard on new costumes, troupe members would be practicing new dance routines, and pan players would be rehearsing new songs in time for the August Bank Holiday carnival. But this year things are different. Nobody is quite sure if the Leeds West Indian Carnival will be going ahead. The carnival was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic and while the country is still in a semi-lockdown restrictions are due to be fully lifted at the end of June, two months before the carnival.
Since their press release in February, the public have not heard anything from the carnival committee about plans for 2021. The truth is nobody knows what the future holds and it is still uncertain as to whether the carnival will go ahead or not. If the carnival does take place in 2021 it may not take the traditional form. Last year we saw a two-day virtual carnival streamed on Zoom, Facebook and Youtube. It is possible that the carnival will again go online for 2021. Earlier in the month Leicester Caribbean Carnival announced that their event for 2021 would be held online. In a statement posted on Facebook, Leicester Carnival said “we cannot safely stage an event with the current pandemic here in the U.K.” Other UK carnivals, such as Notting Hill, have yet to make an announcement regarding their plans for 2021. While the LWIC committee have remained quiet publicly they have consulted troupes to discuss possible options for 2021 and another possibility would be an indoor event, possibly staged at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, with a social distanced audience.
Whether the carnival is held online, indoors or on the road, troupes in costumes will be needed. Ideally, troupes need the committee to make an announcement within the next week or so to allow enough time to prepare. When we spoke to some Leeds carnival troupes at the beginning of March nobody was making plans for the carnival and now at the end of April that doesn’t seem to have changed. Troupes are eagerly awaiting the go-ahead from the committee but time is running out! Guy Farrar from the Mama Dread troupe told us that old costumes may be revamped at short notice. Hughbon Condor from High Esteem Carnival Designs informed us that work had already begun, prior to March 2020, on troupe costumes and a king costume for a collaborative mas band, called MasVegas, with the AnonyMas troupe. Due to lockdown rules restricting teams working together, all work on the costumes had to be suspended and they are still unfinished. If the costumes can be finished in time we may see them this year.
However, it is not guaranteed the High Esteem, or indeed any other troupe, will be taking part in carnival this year. If the carnival does go ahead it most likely will be a scaled down event which some troupes may not want to take part in or may not want to make new costumes for. Fear of the virus may also leave people reluctant to join in the carnival regardless of its size. This will also affect audience turnout. 150,000 people attended the carnival in 2019 but this number could be reduced massively in 2021 either by choice or because of limited access to an indoor event. An online event may also have a low viewer count. Less then 14,000 people watched last year’s virtual carnival on Facebook with just over a thousand more watching on Youtube. An online event held in 2021 will probably attract around 15,000 viewers but many people would rather spend the weekend outside in the sunshine and some, as we saw in 2020, may even be in costume or playing steel pans in their gardens. Whatever the committee decide to do,a full-blown carnival still seems a few years away.
A total of 100 new items have been added to the Leeds West Indian Carnival Archive. The unofficial online archive, founded by Danny Friar in 2018, collects together items from various online sources including eight full issues of Chapeltown News from the Seventies and eleven full issues of Community Highlights dating from 1996 to 2020. The archive also includes material from The West Yorkshire Archives and Leodis which have all previously been available online but never in the same place.
As well as bringing together material from other online sources the archive has a collection of newspaper articles dating from 1968 to 1989 that come from the Yorkshire Evening Post, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Other Paper. Many of these articles have never appeared online before. There’s also a section of the archive dedicated to the Leeds Reggae Concert (now the Black Music Festival).
Now, 100 new items have been added to the Leeds West Indian Carnival Archive bring the archive’s total number of items to 361. The new items all date from 2010 to 2020 and include posters, flyers, maps, and online promotion items. Together the 361 help tell the story of the Leeds West Indian Carnival and provide details of winning Carnival Kings and Queen. Calypso Monarch winners, and events in the carnival’s 54 year history.
The archive is regularly updated but has never had so many items added all at once. In the future the archive hopes to include videos and more newspaper articles covering the years after 1989 as well as printed adverts from the late Nineties.. In the meantime, visitors to the archive will be able to explore the 361 items already available.
The Leeds West Indian Carnival Archive can be found here.
Below is an list of the winning Calypso and Soca Monarchs of the Leeds West Indian Carnival from 1967 to 2020. The list is currently incomplete, if you can help add any names, please get in touch via the comments below or the ‘contact’ page.
1967 – Lord Silkey (Artie Davis)
1968 – Smiley (Willet)
1969 – Lord Prinze (Lionel Hewitt)
1970 – Lord Silkey (Artie Davis)
1971 – Lord Silkey (Artie Davis)
1972 – Lord Silkey (Artie Davis)
1973 – 1995 – Calypso King Show goes on hiatus.
1996 – Lord Prince (Lionel Hewitt)
1997 – Lord Silkey (Artie Davis)
1998 – King Alfanso (Nigel Wilkes)
1999 – King Robbie (Robert Connor)
2000 – 2003 – No information
2004 – King Robbie (Robert Connor)
2005 – King Robbie (Robert Connor)
2006 – Prince Natty
2007 – Lord Silkey (Artie Davis)
2008 – Soca B (Brenda Farara) Show is renamed Calypso Monarch Show
2009 – Soca B (Brenda Farara)
2010 – Vincee Paul
2011 – No information
2012 – Soca B (Brenda Farara)
2013 – Soca B (Brenda Farara)
2014 – Soca B (Brenda Farara)
2015 – Gully Star
2016 – Vanguard/Mally (Malcolm Connor) Show is renamed Soca Monarch Show
For the first time since the Second World War, the carnival in Trinidad was cancelled in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. The carnival went ahead in 2020, just before Covid reached the Caribbean but was the last outdoor carnival held that year. Now with Covid having a much longer-lasting effect than expected the Trinidad Carnival for 2021 took the same route many carnivals took in 2020 and moved to an online format. In England, things seem to be going to plan to lift the national lockdown in time for Leeds West Indian Carnival in August 2021 and the last we heard the carnival committee were eagerly awaiting further instructions from the government – fingers crossed the event will still go ahead. Read about February’s press release here.
In the meantime we have World Fete Live, one of largest online carnival themed events, to keep us going. The last event, held in February, had 41,000 people watching. The next event, World Fete Live 5, will take place on 24 April and has the theme ‘Ladies Rule’. You can get your free pass here.
It will come as no surprise that there has been little news in regards to the Leeds West Indian Carnival since their press release in February. However, it is not a complete void when it comes to carnival-related news. A cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, due to take place on 17 March, not only impacted those from the Irish community but also those with Montserratian heritage. The celebration is a big deal on the island and is celebrated by Montserratians here in England too with a troupe from Leeds usually taking part in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Leeds or Manchester.
March also saw the celebration of International Women’s Day and the Yorkshire Post put together a list of ‘Eight overlooked Yorkshire women’ which included both Ruth Bundey and Gertrude Paul who have both made massive contributions to the Leeds West Indian Carnival since its early days. Sadly, Gertrude Paul passed away in 1992 but Ruth Bundey still plays mas with the Harrison-Bundey Mama Dread Masqueraders. See the full list here.
Two videos, one about carnival dance and one about carnival music, uploaded onto the Leeds West Indian Carnival’s Youtube channel in late March have since vanished. Both videos were 10-15 minutes long and very informative and included input from David Hamilton and Akeim Toussaint Buck (in the dance video) and Melvin Zakers and Khadijah Ibrahiim (in the music video). The videos were produced by Esta Suma and Melody Walker was a consultant. These videos may re-emerge at a later date and if they do we’ll have more details but truth be told they came and went so quick there was no time to take notes! No doubt carnival has something up its sleeve!
The Leeds West Indian Carnival inspires people in a number of ways, be it art, drama or the written word. Leeds has a number of great poets and authors and many of them have contributed to a newly published anthology titled ‘Weighted Words’ which is edited by Jacob Ross and published by Peepal Tree Press. The book was published on 18th March and includes Khadijah Ibrahiim’s poem ‘The Man Who Walks With Crosses N Feathers’ which was written in 2018. The poem looks at ways in which people deal with grief and displacement through migration but also looks at how carnival is used as an act of reconnecting to Caribbean heritage. Weighted Words includes other creative writings by Malika Booker, Sheila Freeman, Gloria Hanley, David Hamilton, Emily Zobel Marshall, Pauline Mayers, Sai Murray, Lara Rose, Joe Williams, Kathy Williams and others. You can order your copy here.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yet another lockdown in December 2020, the future of the Leeds West Indian Carnival was again left uncertain. Each year people across the country plan for the carnival months in advance. Plans for the Leeds West Indian Carnival 2020 began as early December 2019 with costume designers discussing ideas and designs. Those plans were put on hold in March when the first lockdown was announced and the carnival was cancelled for the first time since it began in 1967. An online two-day carnival was held instead and while it was a success, people were eager to get carnival back on the road where it belongs. A majority of people had hopes that the Leeds West Indian Carnival would return in 2021, especially when plans for easing the first lockdown began in June 2020. Then in December another lockdown was announced and the carnival’s future was once again uncertain.
In February 2021, Boris Johnson announced the government’s plans to ease the lockdown, with it eventually coming to an end on 21 June. This gave new hope to carnivalists – if the government’s roadmap for ending the lockdown went to plan the Leeds West Indian Carnival could return. On 26 February the Leeds West Indian Carnival released a statement in which they said they were “very optimistic” that the carnival would go ahead in 2021. The statement went on to say that the Leeds West Indian Carnival were “working closely with Leeds City Council to decide what carnival will look like” in 2021. This however does not guarantee the carnival will go ahead. The statement made it clear that the carnival were “awaiting further guidance from the government.” Councillor Mary Harland, Leeds City Council Executive Member for the Economy said “we will continue to closely monitor and be led by government guidance in relation to this.”
Leeds West Indian Carnival founder and Chairperson Arthur France said:
“We are looking forward to having our 53rd carnival, whilst we are all waiting in anticipation for the go ahead, it is important that we continue to follow the government guidelines to ensure carnival takes place. We want everyone to stay safe, look after each other and remember liberation came out of hardship.”
Arthur France had his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination in February, despite his phobia of needles, and encouraged others to do the same in an interview for NHS Leeds. “Everyone should take it, because it’s better to be safe than sorry” he said. Arthur went on to add “I want to live as long as I can in the best health that I can and I think the vaccine is the best thing.”
Africans came to England in Victorian times for a variety of reasons, either on a short visit, long-term migration and anything in-between. They arrived as entertainers, businessmen, students, scholars, bishops, authors, and abolitionists. During the reign of Queen Victoria, Britain played host to a number of Royal Africans. Searching through Victorian newspapers brings up many tales of African princes visiting Britain; a five and a half year old African prince in Liverpool in 1851, Prince Sidi in Southampton in 1853, and Prince Warobo of Opobo ( eastern Nigeria) in Frodsham in 1881.
Leeds had its fair share of Royal African visits during the last decades of the 19th Century. Prince Alemayehu of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) famously lived in Leeds for some months before his untimely death, aged 18, in 1879. Prince Ademuyiwa of Lagos (Nigeria) visited Leeds in 1894 and witnessed the construction of a railway junction in South Leeds. He even gave an interview to the Leeds Mercury. It was in the pages of the Leeds Mercury that another African Prince paying a visit to Leeds was reported in 1888.
On 4 September 1888 the Leeds Mercury printed a letter from an eyewitness that had seen an “African Prince” taunted on Woodhouse Lane. It was said that the prince was followed by a group of children who jeered at him and even threw stones at him. When a police officer arrived on the scene he suggested the prince should move on, commenting that the children “like to have a bit of fun with a darkey”. The writer of the letter wrote: “I cannot help feeling that it is a disgrace to us as a people that a visitor who happens to have a darker skin than ours, or who dresses differently from us, cannot walk along our streets without being followed by a crowd of people and insulted, and even pelted with stones.”
The letter gave no details about the prince. Who was he? Where was he from? Why was he in Leeds? And was he even a prince at all?
The ‘African Prince’ next appeared in the Leeds Mercury a few days later; giving some details on who the prince was. On 7 September it was reported that the African prince was in fact Charles Alexander Edwards, a man who “describes himself as an African Prince”. On this occasion Edwards was being charged for assault but Edwards’s story didn’t begin or end in Leeds. The earliest mention of Charles Alexander Edwards was from 1883 in the Illustrated Police News which gave the biggest clue to who Edwards really was.
On 13 October 1883 it was reported that Edwards “described as a native of the West Indies” was charged with stealing a seal-skin jacket, valued at £60, in Lambeth, London. There was no mention of Edwards being a prince or claiming to be a prince. He did however state “that he was a gentleman”.
It seems likely Edwards wasn’t a prince, or even a gentleman, or indeed African. Charles Alexander Edwards was, probably, born in the British West Indies (It was reported he spoke fluent English), sometime around 1853 (His age is given as 30 in the 1883 report), who arrived in England sometime before, or in, 1883. He most likely was a conman, gambler and thief, who traveled around the country claiming to be a wealthy African prince and a gentleman. He was known for being violent, especially towards women, and was a bit of a maverick, always described as being “very excited”, that enjoyed a drink and a lifestyle he couldn’t afford. While he was reported to have dressed smartly, he spent his life in England living in lodging houses.
By 1885 Edwards was married and was living with his wife, Blanche Catherine Edwards, at Crane Grove, Holloway Road in London. In August, Edwards found himself in court again. On this occasion he had tried buying wine, to the sum of over £9, with two cheques that the bank returned. Edwards was still not claiming to be a prince but made the claim that he was indeed wealthy, with an income of £400 a year paid into his wife’s account.
It’s in 1888 where his story really takes off. That was the year that Edwards was first reported to be claiming to be an African prince. By claiming to be a gentleman Edwards had found he could get off lightly with his crimes; he could simply explain his situation, apologise, give a gentleman’s agreement to not do it again and walk away with a small fine. On top of that, Edwards was always ready with an excuse for his actions; a family friend had recently died, he didn’t know any better, or he was just drunk. Being a prince was even better; nobody wanted to send a prince to jail.
This scam, of pretending to be an African price, had happened and worked, to some degree, before. Moses Doyle Wallace, most likely an African American, had served in the US Navy as a cook before arriving in Britain in 1868. In New York he had claimed to have been the Prince of Accra in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and in London he became James Manna, the son of the King of Dahomey. Another time he claimed to be the son and heir to the King of the Gallina (Sierra Leone) and in Glasgow he claimed to be James Kelly, a wealthy ship owner. In Liverpool he went by the names John M’Quiver and Captain James Brookes. Claiming to be an extremely wealthy African prince (being paid £10,000 per year from the Sierra Leone government) Wallace traveled the country, staying in hotels unpaid for, borrowing money, stealing clothes, issuing forged notes, and obtaining money and items under false pretenses. He was arrested numerous times and did jail time on several occasions.
By early 1888 Edwards and his wife had moved to Southport and on 8 May it was reported that Edwards had been in court three times in the space of a fortnight. His most recent crime was assault against his landlady, Mrs. Croasdale, who had approached Edwards after she discovered he was married and had been courting one of the female lodgers. The North-Eastern Daily Gazette gives the first details of Edwards’s prince story. He claimed to be “a man of means” and the son of “one of the native Kings on the River Bonny” in Nigeria.
August 1888 saw Edwards, still in Southport, in court again after riding a horse across a public park and along Chapel Street for which he was fined 10 shillings. By September Edwards had moved to Leeds where again he appeared in court a number of times, including for “furious driving” and had been kicked out of the Victoria Hotel by a police officer “two or three times”. In early September he was charged for assaulting his landlady, Louisa Wainman. One night Edwards had been out drinking champagne with a friend. It was reported that “He had plenty of money, and could get it whenever he wanted it.” After returning home drunk in a cab shortly after midnight, Edwards requested Mrs. Wainman paid his cab fare. After she refused he hit her in the face three times. The Leeds Mercury reported that Edwards “was, he said, a respectable person – a gentleman by breeding. “ However the court heard that Edwards made “his living by betting”. Edwards was fined 40 shillings but was warned if he appeared in court again, and was found guilty, he would be sent to jail “whatever he might say about being a gentleman”. Edwards did appear in court in Leeds again, in February 1889, when he was charged with “having conducted himself riotously in the streets”. He was again fined 40 shillings after pleading guilty.
A court case in January 1892 gives some details of Edwards’s travels and crimes prior to that date but doesn’t give any precise dates. He spent time in jail in Chester, and was convicted of assault in Torquay. The court also heard how in Torquay, Edwards, using the name Charles Edwards, had gone “about robbing tradesmen” and had “borrowed money from several hard-working people” and “had been repeatedly before the Magistrates”. It was also reported that “Since that time he had been to Paris, Italy, Rome, and elsewhere, and had been back here two months”.
Edwards next shows up in 1891 by which time he has a changed name and altered story. Now living in Portsmouth, Edwards was using the name Prince Charles Alexander Edward Theodore of Abyssinia. Four years prior Edwards had claimed to be a Nigerian prince but was now claiming to be from the other side of Africa, the son of Emperor Tewodros (Theodore). Edwards also claimed that he received a pension from the British Government.
In January 1892 Edwards was in court in Portsmouth for threats against his landlady and a female lodger. Before the end of the month he was once again in court but this time Edwards was claiming he had been the victim of assault, not the other way around, after an argument broke out at a lodging house in December 1891. The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle reported details of the court case in which Edwards’s identification was questioned. When asked “You have gone in the name of Charles Alexander Edwards?” Edwards replied “Yes”. The story of the assault also appeared in The Illustrated Police News; giving us the only known image of Edwards.
By February 1892 Edwards had stayed at, and had been kicked out of, a number of lodging houses in Portsmouth. He was kicked out of one for the use of obscene language, and two others for not paying his bills. One landlady, Jane McDonnugh, claimed she was owned over £5 for rent and damages to property, and detained Edwards’s clothes, valued at £10, until the debt was cleared. During the court case that followed, the court was told Edwards “was a man who went about the country in this way representing himself as Prince Theodore.”
Edwards had moved on to Lincoln by March 1892. In Lincoln he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and fined 8 shillings. Again, he claimed to be a prince and claimed to be in receipt of an annual allowance of £500 from the British Government. In April he was arrested again for being drunk and in charge of a horse. When asked his name he replied “Prince Charles Alexander Theodore, son of King Theodore of Abyssinia.” The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, reporting on the story, quoted Edwards as telling the magistrates “I am a gentleman’s son bred and born of kings and the noblest of kings” before adding “If I come before you again then deal seriously with me. I promise you honourably and straightforwardly as a gentleman’s son and a prince that I will behave myself.” It was talk like this that helped Edwards keep out of any serious trouble and in Lincoln it worked again. The magistrates, reluctant to send Edwards to prison, fined him 21 shillings instead.
Of course, Edwards did appear in front of the court in Lincoln again, in May of the same year, this time for using abusive language in public for which he was fined 30 shillings. As in Leeds, in Lincoln Edwards had been the victim of racist jeering by a crowd on Burton Road which had resulted in him using “most disgusting language”. By June, Edwards was back in London again, where he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and threatening people with a knife. He was fined 10 shillings. Fond of gambling, in London Edwards was able to attend the horse racing at Windsor. While there in July 1892 he threatened Robert Jacobs and unable to talk his way of this one, he was sentenced to three months in jail. What happened to Edwards after that remains a mystery. He doesn’t appear in any newspaper after July 1892. Perhaps he learnt his lesson, or perhaps he returned to Africa to rule over Abyssinia, or was it Nigeria….
Ace A Spade is an up-and-coming Dancehall Reggae artist from Jamaica who is promising to make a big splash in the near future. Born Corry Campbell in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, Jamaica, Ace A Spade has been involved in music for a number of years; uploading music onto Soundcloud. He made his official debut in 2019 with ‘Levels To This’. Since then he has released a number of singles including ‘Goody Goody’ and ‘Rolling Deep’ and has had radio plays in Jamaica and the UK. More recently he worked on the ‘LEGENDS’ project with international producers Troyton Music.
His new single ‘Satellite High’ is dedicated to all the marijuana fans out there and it’s the perfect tune to put on while you sit back and light up. ‘Satellite High’ has a great chorus and relatable lyrics for anyone who’s ever been as high as a satellite. There’s a few lines that will make you chuckle (“Snoop Dogg is my uncle”) but for the most part it’s a chill song. I can see it fast becoming a 420 classic. Speaking about the song, Ace A Spade called it “The type of marijuana song that makes you think, chill and feel hyped at the same time”. Ace A Spade wrote ‘Satellite High’ himself, inspired by his younger brother who apparently is “a big fan of marijuana”. The single is due to be released on 2 November on most digital platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play. A music video is due for release on YouTube the same day. So, give it a listen, relax and spark one up.
Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival 2020 Day Two, 31 August
The second day of the Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival was streamed live on Facebook, Zoom and YouTube from the West Indian Centre on Monday 31 August. The day began with a virtual J’ouvert Morning at 7am. DJ Godfather played Soca music over footage from a previous year’s J’ouvert Morning parade. DJ Godfather continued the tradition of playing Big Drum and Fife music during J’ouvert Morning in remembrance of those that had passed away since the previous year’s carnival. The virtual J’ouvert ended a little later than planned, around 9:15am which delayed the rest of the day’s schedule by around 15 minutes. It was later announced that Dawn Riggon had won the prize for the Best J’ouvert outfit. Her prize was a Leeds West Indian Carnival goody bag, a copy of the book ‘Celebrate! 50 Years of The Leeds West Indian Carnival’ and a bottle of Rum Beat.
In an article for Caribbean Intelligence titled ‘A Globe-Trotting Virtual Carnival’, which reported on both the Notting Hill Carnival and the Leeds West Indian Carnival, Debbie Ransome wrote:
On Carnival Monday, organisers provided a great soca soundtrack from local DJs as people jumped up at home with their bottles and flags. The action ran non-stop, from J’Ouvert first thing in the morning to some serious late afternoon adult jump-up activities, in people’s gardens and any grass areas available. In quieter moments, make-up and hair experts shared tips on Carnival glamour.
After J’ouvert Morning Fenella Bacchanella led a Soca-cise session and pre-recorded videos were shown in between sets of DJ Toro playing Soca music. Tanty’s Carnival Cuisine came next, during which Tanty (Sarah Duberry) from Montserrat demonstrated how to cook a number of dishes from Montserrat including goat water, Johnny cakes, coconut cakes, and sweet potato pudding. Leanne from The Glow Up Mission gave a Carnival make up tutorial around 10:20 after which the schedule was altered slightly so that RJC Dance could still make their scheduled appearance at 11am. RJC Dance performed live from the Mandela Centre for around 30 minutes. After RJC Dance’s performance came the Carnival hair tutorial by Hair By Ebony.
From around 12:25, Soca music was played by DJ Toro and then DJ Sequinella from Manchester who played until around 1:25pm. The Carnival Chairperson Arthur France official opened the carnival just before 1:30pm. In his opening speech he said:
Welcome to the Leeds West Indian Centre. This is the 52nd anniversary of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, the oldest in Europe and it’s a pleasure to be here at the Leeds West Indian Centre broadcasting. It’s sad that we would have been on the road at this time but as you’re aware your health comes first. Without health you’re no good to anyone, not even to yourself. So, we have to do it this way and we apologise on behalf of nature. No-one can control that. It’s important that we have a very good crew here, the best crew in England. We hope at home, or wherever you are, you will enjoy what you are getting this afternoon. For me, I’m sorry for our forefathers who gave their yesterday for today and some of our friends who have been here, on a long journey for 52 year; people like George Archibald, Tony Lewis, Allan Julien, Gloria Pemberton, Wilmot James and a few more but you can’t mention all of them. We are grateful for the young people who have actually taken up the baton to run with it for I won’t be here all the time. And I hope they will remember us how we remember our forefathers over 400 years ago when they were taken from Africa and worked and created wealth for Europe and none for themselves. We will enjoy ourselves and thank you very much.
The official opening of the Leeds West Indian Carnival was followed by the New World Steel Orchestra adult group who performed three tunes live from the Leeds West Indian Centre. Following the New World Steel Orchestra’s performance was soca music by DJ Double Trouble Twin Productions (DJ Twin T) from around 1:45pm. Next came an interview with Rugby League player Alex Simmons who had brought the rugby league world cup to the Leeds West Indian Centre. Alex Simmons was interviewed by Fluid Irie, the event’s host.
Throughout the day spectators were seen on Zoom in their homemade carnival costumes. This included Hughbon Condor in his 2020 ‘Corona’ costume. Hughbon had made the costume at home in early June using plastic bottles, card and an old t-shirt. A 32-minute long video detailing how the costume was made was uploaded onto the High Esteem Carnival Designs YouTube channel on 4 June. In the video description Hughbon Condor wrote:
I have been inspired by the many contributions other artists have made during this world pandemic. They have helped to uplift spirits by finding ways to perform their art form whilst practicing social distancing. Poems, songs, soca, calypso lyrics and music of all kinds have been written, sung and played, each telling their own story about the Coronavirus and Covid-19 specifically. As a carnival artist, I also felt compelled to use my art form to portray a costume design that is reflective of the situation carnival lovers are faced with. All carnivals have been cancelled this year, with no chance of jamming and social distancing at the same time.
After a short warm up by DJ Toro, the parade of the bands began around 2:45pm beginning with the Ferm and Ready carnival troupe performing live from the Leeds West Indian Centre. A selection of videos where then shown showing different troupes from previous years. Among the troupes taking part in the virtual parade were Rampage, Xtreme Mas, Team Creative, RJC Dance, Valentina’s Collective and Harrison Bundey Mama Dread Masqueraders. Valentina’s Collective’s section was an especially recorded video filmed by ShotByJavanIan that showed two members of the troupe, Pareesha Valentina and Jemma Mae, performing a dance in carnival costumes in Leeds. Harrison Bundey Mama Dread Masqueraders’ video included audio of Simon Namsoo reading his poem ‘Ah Missing Carnival’ which he had written earlier in the month and had first been published on Leedsmasmedia.wordpress.com on 30 August. The parade of bands ended around an hour later with a live performance by AnonyMas.
Following the parade of bands, Fluid Irie interviewed Diane Flemming from Soca Village. DJ Trini and DJ Hoppa provided a selection of Soca tunes leading up to a live performance by international Soca artist Lyrikal that began at 5pm. Lyrikal performed a number of songs including ‘Rukshun’, ‘Zig Zag’, ‘Do Like That’, ‘Speechless’ and his latest single ‘Quick Stop’. The Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival 2020 came to a close with another soca set by DJ Toro which ended around 6pm. Reporting on the virtual carnival for Caribbean Intelligence in September, Debbie Ransome wrote “the call by the Leeds DJ around 5.30pm on Bank Holiday Monday for the las’ lap (final jump-up) seemed to bring an even bigger frenzy of Zoom window performances. In the virtual world, nobody has to worry about how they’re getting home.” Over 13,000 people tuned in to watch Day Two of the virtual carnival. Debbie Ransome later wrote in Caribbean Intelligence “Despite all the difficulties, they did not fail to impress”.
The People’s Carnival, 31 August
A number of house parties were held on Sunday night to celebrate the Leeds West Indian Carnival. Members of the Cockspur Crew, including Lord Silkie, Godfather and Shaggy, enjoyed rum and soca music at one such house party held in Chapeltown.
The following morning, around 7am, a small group of people gathered at the Norma Hutchinson Park for an unofficial J’ouvert Morning celebration. The gathering had been announced on social media around fifteen minutes earlier. Using a car to play music, the people made their way around the traditional J’ouvert Morning parade route, dancing on the road and pavement, waving rags and blowing whistles. Beginning with around 8 people, the group increased to around 20 people by 9am. The unofficial J’ouvert parade was stopped by the police around 9am but was allowed to continue after police officers had spoken to the group regarding safety.
Garden parties and house parties were held across Chapeltown and surrounding areas throughout Monday, one of which included music provided by Sensation Sounds. People enjoyed BBQs, music, and alcohol at home and some people even wore headdresses and costumes. Members of the High Esteem team held a parade of kings in the carpark outside their Mas Camp and two members of Foxwood Steel Band performed steel pan outside in a garden. On Chapeltown Road there was a small gathering outside the Kalabash restaurant that enjoyed food and drinks. During the day a small group of masqueraders made up of Khadijah Ibrahiim, Pauline Mayers and Monica Richards appeared on Chapeltown Road in full carnival costume, dancing and playing soca music on their phones. They made their way down Chapeltown Road near Kalabash and Dutch Pot before turning around and making their way down Harehills Avenue and into Potternewton Park. Between 2pm and 10pm, an ‘Official Carnival Day Party’, organised by Loyal Achieving Brothers, was held at Eiger Music Studios in Leeds. The party was held inside and outside and measures were made to ensure the event stuck to the Covid-19 restrictions. This meant that the event had limited tickets available. Early Bird tickets were priced at £3 while standard tickets were £5. There was also a ‘Jab Jab Crew’ ticket available which was two tickets for £7.
Media Coverage, August
Leading up to the carnival on 27 August, the YouTube channel GetawayGirls Leeds uploaded episode 6 of their online series Getaway Girls TV in which the cast discussed the Leeds West Indian Carnival. The Getaway Girls spoke about the history of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, their favourite parts of the carnival, their carnival memories, and how they felt about the carnival being cancelled in 2020. The Visit Leeds Facebook page featured a weekend of content dedicated to the Leeds West Indian Carnival beginning on Saturday 29 August. The weekend of content included short videos of interviews with Sanchez Payne, Faye Kenny, and Pareesha Valentina.
On Saturday 29 August the BBC News website uploaded a video about the Leeds West Indian Carnival, which had been filmed earlier in the month. In the video Arthur France spoke about Coronavirus saying: “This thing is deadly, nobody knows where it is, what it is, where its coming from”. He went on to say: “Let’s keep safe and do the best we can and have happy memories of the previous year.” Speaking about the virtual carnival Lorina Gumbs from Anonymas Carnival Troupe said “We’re hoping for it to be interactive so people at home, even though you’re at home, doesn’t mean you can’t put on your costume. It’s still keeping the carnival spirit alive, still keeping the atmosphere and what it means.” Hughbon Condor, who was seen with his 2020 ‘Corona’ costumes, spoke about the carnival saying “It’s a ritual; it’s like Christmas as my son would say. It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate, for us to get together and maintain the culture in terms of what we brought from the Caribbean”. Stepbon Condor added “I’ve missed the interaction, I’ve missed having people in the workshop working with us but the journey that I go on in terms of making that costume and everything that goes with it, I’ve still done. So whilst it feels like you’re wrapping all the Christmas presents and you’re getting ready and then you’re just not going to open them until next year. I guess that’s how it feels now.”
On 31 August Leeds Live website published ’17 dazzling pictures from Leeds West Indian Carnival archives to keep the party spirit alive’. The photos mainly came from recent years, with four from 2018 and seven from 2019. The remainder six photos were undated. The Yorkshire Evening Post website ran a similar story and published ’16 amazing, colourful photos from Leeds West Indian Carnival over the year’. The Yorkshire Evening Post’s photo selection was more varied but still included a majority of photos from the last 20 years. Of the 16 photos used one came from 1970, one from 1973, two from 2000, one from 2001, one from 2004, two from 2007, one from 2008, one from 2010, one from 2011, one from 2013, one from 2014, one from 2015, one from 2016, and one from 2019. A photo from 2012 was also used at the top of the page.
Carnival Centre, September
On 11 September it was announced that the Leeds West Indian Carnival had been awarded a Heritage Emergency Fund Award from Heritage Fund UK to help make the Carnival Centre on Sheepscar Street North ‘Covid Ready’. It was announced that the funding would also be used to “Secure our valuable heritage and cultural assets, especially those magnificent carnival costumes, and support the Leeds Carnival Community at this difficult time.”
Arthur France News, September
On 9 September BBC News reported that, after a review of statues in Leeds carried out by the Leeds City Council in which over 800 people voiced their views, a majority of people had wanted little or no changes to be made to the statues in Leeds. However, it was also reported there had been many suggestions of new statue commemorations for people from Leeds including Olympic boxer Nicola Adams and Arthur France, the Chairman of the Leeds West Indian Carnival.
Arthur France gave a number of interviews throughout the year, about the Black Lives Matter movement and the Leeds West Indian Carnival. These interviews appeared in newspapers, magazines, on TV and on YouTube. On 16 September a 16-minute long video of Arthur France being interviewed was uploaded on to the Opal22 Arts and Edutainment channel. In the interview Arthur France spoke about his first carnival memories, how and why he founded the Leeds West Indian Carnival and his hopes for the future of the Leeds West Indian Carnival.
Meanwood Street Art, September
In September, carnival artist Rhian Kempadoo-Millar was one of the artists to take part in the Meanwood Street Art Project. The project commissioned different local artists to paint telecommunication cabinets in the Meanwood area of Leeds. Rhian Kempadoo-Millar painted the telecommunication cabinet on the corner of Stainbeck Avenue and Stonegate Road. Rhian Kempadoo-Millar painted the telecommunication cabinet with a carnival-themed painting called ‘Dance Yuh Dance’. She began the painting on Sunday 13 September and finished the painting on Thursday 17 September.
Carnival In A Box, September
A new website, carnivalinabox.co.uk, was launched in July 2020. The website showcases the work of carnival artists and musicians across the UK. On 20 September, Hughbon Condor from Leeds became the websites fourth ‘Featured Carnival Artist’. The website uploaded a 10-minute long video in which Hughbon spoke about his career as a costume designer and maker. In the video Hughbon spoke about what he had been doing in 2020. “I designed two costumes” Hughbon said. “One was called ‘Corona’ and it was about how to use recycled materials, which was several bottles and just one t-shirt, to make a costume” he added. Hughbon went on to say “I also made a costume working with a school in London, James Dixon Primary School”. A few days later, on 22 September, a video montage showing some of Hughbon Condor’s Carnival costumes was used in the website’s third Carnival Gala video.
High Esteem And James Dixon ‘s Carnival Collaboration, May – July 2020
During the spring of 2020, High Esteem Carnival Designs from Leeds worked James Dixon Primary School in London to design and make a Carnival Queen costume. Pupils of the school were asked to send in their costume designs based on the the following themes:
Celebrating the heroes of Coronavirus
Working/studying from home during shutdown
Keeping busy whilst staying at home
Design entries could be drawings on paper or computer, photographs, models, ‘mood’ boards or written descriptions. Entries were sent to the school between 4 and 18 May and the best ideas were combined into a single design that was made by High Esteem and kept inside the school. The James Dixon Primary Newsletter for 7 May and 22 May included some of the carnival costume designs that had been entered by pupils. Over 40 pupils sent in their designs, many of which incorporated a rainbow. Photographs of their designs were printed onto material and used in the finished costume. The High Esteem team worked on the costume throughout June and the complete costume was displayed inside the school from early July. A photo of the costume was featured on the cover of the James Dixon Primary Newsletter for 3 July and more photos were included inside the newsletter.
Dadstastic Day 2020, 19 July 2020
For 2020 the Dadstatic Day, organised by Leeds Dads, moved online with a live stream on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Leedsdads.org from 11am until 4pm. The day of activities including dance, a magic show, den building, and story time. There was also a carnival-themed crafts section with Valentina’s Collective Arts making fabulous carnival costume collars.
Britain’s Only Outdoor Carnival, 24 July 2020
Derby was perhaps the only city in Britain to have any kind of outdoor carnival in 2020. A small number of people in carnival costumes and medical face masks, representing East Midlands Caribbean Carnival Arts (EMCCA), paraded, danced and displayed their costumes at a special preview event of Derby Market Place’s new outdoor food court on Friday 24 July. Costumes were worn by members of various troupes from the East Midlands including Inspire Urself Carnival Troupe from Nottingham, Cultural Roots Carnival Troupe from Derby and Elimu Mas from Derby. Due to Leicester’s local lockdown, in place since 17 July, costumes from Leicester’s Sensational Vibes troupe were worn by people from other troupes. The adult performers, including Carnival Kings and Queens from previous years, were joined by a carnival princess in a costume designed by Jess Kemp and made by students from City of Derby Academy, and a carnival prince in a costume designed by Charis Betts and made by students from Stenson Fields Primary. Other costumes and images from Northampton and Nottingham Carnivals were displayed in the food court throughout the day.
Carnival Goes Online, June – August
With the cancellation of carnivals across the world, many carnival groups organised online events using Zoom Video Communications or other similar apps. DJ Toro from Leeds was one of the many DJs to take part in the online event ‘World Fete Live’ on 27 June. The event involved soca DJs from around the world including DJs from Australia, Japan, Canada, USA, Europe and the Caribbean performing for 15 hours. Among the UK DJs taking part were DJ Sequinella and DJ Twin T.
DJ Toro and members of the AnonyMas troupe made an appearance at Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s ‘The Virtual Road’ online event on 1 August. Their one hour segment was streamed live from the Caribbean Cricket Club on Scott Hall Road. The same day saw DJ Trini hosting Sheffield’s online carnival event ‘Soca Distancing’. On 10 August members of the AnonyMas troupe were at the Our Place building on Buslingthorpe Green filming a section for Nottingham’s online Carnival which was included in their ‘Spectacular Virtual Parade’,streamed online on Sunday 23 August. AnonyMas troupe members also filmed a promo video for the event, which appeared online on 14 August. A clip of Arthur France dancing was also included in the virtual parade during the ‘People’s Parade’ section. DJ Toro was one of the DJs to play after the parade. He played an hour of soca music live between 7pm and 8pm.
Leeds West Indian Carnival Goes Virtual, July
In an interview published in issue 4 of Shine magazine in June, Arthur France spoke about the Leeds West Indian Carnival’s plans for 2020. “We might make a film of the 50th carnival, to keep the memory and passion alive” he said before adding “And we’re planning for next year. The 53rd carnival.” These plans would alter over the following weeks. While Max Farrar was working on his Arthur France biography, a documentary film about Arthur France was also in the works by July.
On 10 July it was announced that the Leeds West Indian Carnival would be holding an online event using Zoom but few details were given at the time. Leeds Live reported on the announcement on 30 July. An article written by Mellissa Dzinzi began:
Leeds West Indian Carnival organisers have confirmed that the event will in fact go ahead this year – but with one major change! The official Leeds West Indian Carnival Facebook page has announced the partying will still happen but online and will take place during the same August bank holiday weekend (30 -31 August).
On 2 August, The Yorkshire Evening Post also reported on the announcement. Grace Newton wrote:
Carnival organisers confirmed on the event’s official Facebook page that an online stream would be available on the August Bank Holiday weekend, although further details have yet to be released.
More details of the event arrived on 13 August with an official flyer appearing online. The flyer, which was later printed in the August issue of Community Highlights, announced that the “Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival 2020” would be “two days of vibes and energy” and ensured people that “registration details for your free Zoom pass will be out soon”. The flyer advertised that Sunday 30 August would be “a tribute to a decade of princes & princesses and kings & queens costumes” while Monday 31 August would be “Carnival Day” and both days would include giveaways, a selection of DJs, interactive activities, performances, parade of the troupes, competitions for best online costumes and much more.
Free registration for the Leeds Virtual Carnival was made available on the Eventbrite website on 19 August, just eleven days before the online carnival took place. Both days of the online carnival had to be registered for separately. Once people had entered their name and email address they received an email confirming their registration but Zoom log-in details were not given until late Friday night, just days before the event. More details of the line-up for both days of the virtual carnival were posted online over the weekend and the official line-up was as follows:
Day 1, Sunday 30 August, 12 Noon to 4pm
Welcome and Introductions
RJC Shack Out Juniors performance
Tribute To The Last Decade of Princes And Princesses
BoomChikkaBoom – Interactive Kids Show with Faye
Kids Costume Competition – Prizes To Be Won
Eli Explores Carnival
Man With The Mas Feathers By Khadjah Ibrahiim
Soca Monarch Tribute
Tribute To The Last Decade of Kings And Queens
The Legacy of Mr Sinclair Morris And His Steel Pan
Out of Many We Are One Performance, Christella Latras, Beulah Byron and Shaun Willis
Close & Carnival Through The Lens
Day 2, Monday 31 August, 7am to 6pm 7-9am Virtual J’ouvert with DJ Godfather 9 – 9:30am Soca-cise with Fenella Bacchanella – Ready for the Virtual Road 9:30 – 10am Tanty’s Carnival Cuisine 10 – 10:30 am Carnival Make Up Tutorial With The Glow Up Mission 10:30 – 11am Carnival Hair With Hair By Ebony 11:00 – 11:45am Carnival At Home with RJC Dance 11:45 – 12 Chair Arthur France Opens Up The Carnival Jump Up WOI! 12 – 1pm DJ Sequinella 1-2pm DJ Twin T 2 -3pm New World Steel Orchestra then The Parade of The Bands 3-4pm DJ Trini 4-4:30pm DJ Hoppa 4:30 – 5pm DJ Toro – Warm Up Session 5pm Lyrikal – International Soca Artist Last Lap Jump Up WOOOIII DJ Toro
Police Pressure In Chapeltown, 14 – 31 August
A fortnight before the August Bank Holiday weekend, on 14 August the West Yorkshire Police and Leeds City Council made a joint announcement. The announcement began:
People across Leeds are being reminded to help keep their communities safe from the spread of Coronavirus by avoiding any large gatherings, particularly during this coming August Bank Holiday weekend where a number of key events have been cancelled.
The announcement went on to say that during the lockdown period, Leeds had seen “a number of unlicensed events” taking place including raves and large gatherings. It went on to say “there are concerns that similar events are being organised for this Bank Holiday weekend”. Assistant Chief Constable Tim Kingsman of West Yorkshire Police said “unlicensed events and large gatherings present a real risk to everyone’s health, and we hope people will take this message on board and do the right thing for themselves and their communities.” Councillor Debra Coupar said “we are not trying to spoil anybody’s fun, but we are asking that people continue to be sensible and follow the government guidance regarding coronavirus to help stop the spread”. On 23 August it was announced that tougher fines would come into force from Friday 29 August for people organising and attending unlawful gatherings. The new measures stated that organisers of illegal gatherings could be fined up to £10,000 and those who attended could be fined £100, which would be doubled on each offence, up to £3,200.
Many in the Chapeltown community felt these changes unfairly targeted people who would normally be celebrating the Leeds West Indian Carnival and, likewise in London, the Notting Hill Carnival. However, stricter rules were not unwarranted; an illegal rave had been held in Potternewton Park on Saturday 8 August and was attended by around 300 people. The rave had originally been planned to take place at Woodhouse Moor but was shut down by the police before it began and was moved to Potternewton Park.
At least a week before the August Bank Holiday, rumours of a similar event, due to take place on Sunday 30 August, began spreading across Leeds and information was shared on social media. There was a large police presence in Chapeltown during the Bank Holiday weekend. Police cars and vans were seen patrolling the area as early as Saturday afternoon and a number of roads in the area were closed by police. No illegal gatherings were reported to have taken place in Chapeltown on Saturday 29 August however a street party on Wepener Mount in Harehills was shut down by police and six people were fined. On Sunday afternoon police seized £20,000 worth of music equipment from a garden in Chapeltown under the suspicion that it was being kept to be used in an unlicensed event. The police presence in Chapeltown increased massively on Sunday evening. Police were seen patrolling the area on foot, in police cars, vans, unmarked cars and even a helicopter. Meanwhile, in Hunslet police shut down a licenced event after it was reported that people were not complying with Covid-19 restrictions. An unlicensed event was also shut down by police in Headingley and a total of 19 people were fined.
An illegal gathering of people took place around the Potternewton Park area on Sunday 30 August. Multiple police vans attended the scene after reports of a large crowded gathered in the area. Police officers working to move the crowd on were met with little resistance and no known arrests were made however, it was later reported that five police officers had suffered minor injuries from missiles thrown at them while they attempted to disperse crowds.
Community Celebrates Carnival, 25 – 31 August
Despite the cancellation of the Leeds West Indian Carnival for 2020, a number of tie-in events still took place around the Bank Holiday weekend. The Geraldine Connor Foundation held an online event via Zoom on Tuesday 25 August. From 7pm until 8.30pm, the Voices Community Choir held a special carnival themed singing workshop. Led by Christella Litras, the choir sang music by Andre Tanker and Ella Andall. Tickets for the workshop were priced at £5. The Black Market restaurant at 5 Stainbeck Lane in Chapel Allerton held a special ‘Spirit of Carnival’ event on 30 and 31 August during which they played Caribbean music and offered a special Caribbean food and drink menu. On 31 August, Our Place on Buslingthorpe Green organised a Carnival Brunch with food provided by the Caribbean restaurant Maureen’s.
Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival 2020 Day One, 30 August
The first day of the Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival was streamed live on Facebook and Zoom from the West Indian Centre on Sunday 30 August. The West Indian Centre had been set up especially for the virtual carnival and the winning King and Queen costumes from 2019 were on display. The programme of events began at 12pm with soca music played by DJ Toro. Members of AnonyMas, in official Virtual Carnival t-shirts, and the official event host Esta Yemaya opened the carnival around 12:12pm. A video of RJC Dance Shack Out Juniors performing at the Prince and Princess show in 2017 was shown and was followed by a dance performance by AnonyMas troupe members. At 12:35pm Faye Kenny from BoomChikaBoom led some interactive activities for children including dances and music making. Faye Kenny also read the children’s book ‘I Am Every Good Thing’ by Derrick Barnes. DJ Toro returned just before 1pm and played soca music in-between pre-recorded videos. The videos included clips of many shop and restaurant owners from Chapeltown talking about the Leeds West Indian Carnival. Among those taking part were Cantor’s, Dutch Pot, Kalabash, Chapeltown Stores, Maureen’s, and Sensation Barbers.
After the videos and music, young costume designer Lina Mir was interviewed by Esta Yemaya. Lina Mir spoke about designing and making costumes, what inspirers her and what advice she would give to young people wanting to design costumes. “You can never be too young to think of an idea” she said. “It’s all about what you want to do and what you think you can do” Lina added. Later, around 1:30pm, costume designer Sheila Howarth was interviewed by Esta Yemaya. Speaking about this year’s carnival Sheila Howarth said “We had to have a carnival and if we can’t take it on the street, we take it on social media”. After some music by DJ Toro, a couple of photographs of previous winning Princesses were show but the live stream began experiencing technical difficulties around 1:40pm and the programme returned to DJ Toro while the issues were resolved.
DJ Toro’s soca set lasted around an hour before the virtual carnival returned with an altered schedule. There was a Soca-cise session with Fenella Bacchanella (Fenella Gumbs) and afterwards a video showcasing High Esteem’s carnival Kings from the last decade was shown. The video was followed by an interview with Sephbon Condor and Hughbon Condor from High Esteem who spoke about their careers as costume designers. A tribute to St. Clair Morris, who passed away in 2017, came next. A video about St.Clair Morris from 2018 was shown and poet Khadjah Ibrahiim read her 2017 tribute to St. Clair Morris live from the West Indian Centre. After the tribute, DJ Toro played some recordings of steel pan music followed by soca music. There was then an interview with Christella Latras and Shawn Willis about their ‘Out of Many We Are One Performance’ project and a video of the Out of Many We Are One Performance was shown. The performance, which used dancers and musicians from around the world, was conceptualised by Carlos J. Martinez, Joanne Bernard, Aaron Chaplin and Shawn Willis as a way of showing support for black and brown dancers and to support the Black Lives Matter movement. The five minute video also used a recording of Rob Green performing a spoken word piece that was written by Aaron Chaplin and Shawn Willis.
After more soca music by DJ Toro, the first day of the Leeds West Indian Virtual Carnival came to a close around 4:20pm with Khadijah Ibrahiim reading her poem ‘The Man Who Walks With Crosses and Mas Feathers’. Around eight thousand people watched Day One of the virtual carnival either on Facebook or Zoom. It was later announced, on 17 September, that Amelia Jeffers had won the prize for the best costume that day. Her prize was a Leeds West Indian Carnival goody bag and a bespoke costume made by Anonymas to wear at the 2021 Leeds West Indian Carnival.
Plans for 2020’s Leeds West Indian Carnival had begun as early as October 2019 and by early 2020 Leeds troupes High Esteem and AnonyMas had their 2020 designs ready. In January the two troupes announced that they were collaborating for the 2020 Leeds West Indian Carnival under the banner ‘HigherMas’. At a special launch event HigherMas gave a preview of their 2020 troupe called ‘Welcome to Mas Vegas’. The fundraiser launch event was held at the Caribbean Cricket Club on Sunday 2 February. Doors opened at 5pm and the show began an hour later at 6pm. Adult tickets were priced at £5 with children’s tickets at £2.50. The launch event included a raffle, with a carnival costume being among the prizes. Guests could also register to join the 2020 troupe and buy customised products. Entertainment at the event was provided by DJs including the Anonymas resident DJ DJ Toro, alongside Supadupa, David McKoy, and Sensation Sounds. Troupe members of the HigherMas troupe wore especially made black t-shirts with a ‘Mas Vegas’ logo on them. The logo read ‘Welcome To Fabulous Mas Vegas CPT’.
Early Preparations and Promotion, January – April
During the first months of 2020, life continued as normal. Items related to the Leeds West Indian Carnival, including a Carnival Messiah programme, two carnival magazines , a flyer, a photograph, whistle, t-shirt, and two hats, were on display at Abbey House Museum as part of the Sounds of Our City exhibition, which opened on 25 January. Other items related to the Leeds reggae scene, including a rare record by The Bedrocks, were also on display. In January, the NHS magazine ‘Engage’ published an interview with the Leeds West Indian Carnival founder and chairperson, Arthur France, who was also featured on the front cover of the magazine. In the interview Arthur France spoke about arriving in England in 1957, founding the Leeds West Indian Carnival, being a community hero, cricket, and food. “My favourite meals are traditional Caribbean rice, peas and chicken, corn meal and fish with an ice cold glass of Mauby” Arthur said. Speaking about the Leeds West Indian Carnival, Arthur France said “I am still the head of Leeds West Indian Carnival so I am always involved in doing research, planning, designing and manufacturing the costumes. All the costumes we create have a special meaning so we tend to do a lot of research before we create anything. The costumes are cultural and are linked to Africa.”
In February, a number of people from Leeds attended the carnival in Trinidad, among them were Charlie Murphy, Glennis Fleming, and Renata Gordon, who played mas on the road in Port of Spain. Back in England, plans for the Leeds West Indian Carnival went ahead as usual and dates for 2020 events were placed online and were as follows:
Sunday 2 August – Thanksgiving Service Sunday 23 August – Carnival Prince & Princess Show Friday 28 August – Carnival King & Queen Show Monday 31 August – J’ouvert Moring, Carnival Parade 2020
A participates form was also made available online with a deadline of 31 July. People interested in taking part in the carnival were asked to fill out the form and email it to the carnival committee.
March saw the released on a 25-minute-long interview film featuring costume designer Hughbon Condor. The film, made by DDX in 2019, was titled ‘Hughbon Condor – A Life in Mas in Leeds Carnival’ and featured an in-depth interview with Hughbon Condor about his long career as a costume designer. The film also included footage of the 2019 carnival king and queen show and 2019 carnival parade. It was uploaded onto the DDX Channel on Youtube on 15 March. In April, a photo of the 2019 carnival, featuring a member of the Kweku Ananse troupe, was used on the front cover of North Leeds Life magazine but no related article was included inside the magazine.
Carnival Cancellation, March & April
As the Coronavirus pandemic spread to Britain in March, public events began being cancelled especially after the country went into a national lockdown on 23 March. The Black Music Festival for 2020 was cancelled on 27 March. The same day, the Leeds West Indian Carnival released a press release regarding Coronavirus which informed the public that a decision regarding the cancellation of the Leeds West Indian Carnival would not be made until the end of June. Part of the press release read:
We are liaising with Leeds City Council and a decision regarding Leeds West Indian Carnival taking place in August 2020 has not been made. We very much hope that the situation in the UK will have improved by the end of June for us to make a decision.
The press release quoted the carnival committee chairman Arthur France who said:
We have never been in this situation before but can assure you that we are here to support everyone involved in carnival from our designers to the local community. We want everyone to stay safe and look after our elders and the most vulnerable within our community following the government guidelines.
This announcement was followed by an announcement made by the HigherMas troupe on 28 March, who announced that they would not be taking part in the Leeds West Indian Carnival in 2020. The same day saw a similar announcement made by Team Creative. In a statement made on their Facebook page, Team Creative said “With nearly a 300 person troupe for 2020 I sadly inform you all that with this level of uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 we will not be participating in the Leeds West Indian Carnival. Many of our preparations involve group activity and we are doing our bit in social distancing and self-isolation. With such a large group preparations need to begin now which means we would be acting irresponsibly during this crisis.” Later the same day, the Leeds West Indian Carnival announced that the 2020 carnival was cancelled. An official statement was made the following day.
In an official press release on 29 March the Leeds West Indian Carnival, supported by Leeds City Council, wrote:
We are deeply saddened to announce that Leeds West Indian Carnival 2020 will not be taking place due to the coronavirus pandemic. This decision has been taken with a heavy heart and the demand this will have on council staff, blue-light services, designers and everyone else involved in carnival is enormous.
Again, the press release quoted Arthur France who said:
As carnivalists, we know how to unite the city through joy, happiness and adversity and it’s these qualities that will help us get through these difficult times. We will be back in 2021 bigger and better with an array of feathers, gems, sequins, costumes and music. I would like to thank everyone involved in carnival over the last 53 years and especially the carnival committee who give up their time for the love of carnival. We support our long standing partner, our friends at Leeds City Council and together we’ll be jammin’ again.”
In an interview with Shine magazine, published in June, Arthur France spoke about his plans for 2020 saying: The carnival won’t happen this year. If you’d have told me a year ago you’d have to stay in your house for weeks I would have thought you were crazy! So we are spending a lot of time on our mobile phones talking to family all over the world.
Speaking to Hannah Gray of BBC Look North on 29 March, the Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee Secretary Mahalia France said “Carnival came out of an adversity and hardship and with the measures taking place this year, next year for 2021 we will be at the other end of that adversity and hardship and we will be back on the streets celebrating our freedom and just bringing joy to the people.”
Carnival Community Support, March & April
Throughout the remainder of March and April, the Leeds West Indian Carnival posted messages on their Facebook page regarding the Coronavirus pandemic and the weekly clapping in honour of NHS staff. Messages came from the 2019 Carnival King, Rushaun McIntosh, and 2019 Carnival Queen, Tahila Hamiton (29 March), Labour MP Fabian Hamilton (via video, 29 March), RJC Dance (30 March), councillor Mohammed Rafique (via video, 30 March), designer Malachi Blair (31 March), St Clair Brown (1 April), Harrison Bundy Mama Dread troupe (2 April) and designer Hughbon Condor (23 April) as well as various videos made by the AnonyMas carnival troupe. Many messages expressed hope for the following year’s carnival. Costume designer Malachi Blair wrote:
This is not a loss for us; this is a blessing in disguise. So carnival 2021 will be that sweet, sweet day we all touch di road again and celebrate like no other carnival day. Carnival 2021 will be iconic and will go down in history for we will mash up di place. So to all my fellow carnival costume designers, masqueraders, planners; sit tight for better days are coming.
On 16 April, Arthur France delivered a message via video in which he urged people to “stay safe”. “We want you to be safe” he added before encouraging people to take part in the weekly clapping for the NHS. “Please clap for our heroes who work very, very hard to keep us safe and we look forward to our big jam in 2021. Please, please save up your energy and stay safe for 2021. One love.”
The May issue of Community Highlights published Danny Friar’s open letter to ‘Carnival Family’, originally published on the website LeedsMasMedia in April. Part of the letter read:
For many of us who have been a part of Leeds West Indian Carnival in one way or another for years or even decades, this cancellation has hit hard and it was a hard decision for the committee to make. However, we must understand that it was the correct decision to make, for our safety and the safety of others. The Leeds West Indian Carnival is a symbol of what can be achieved when we work together. Now we must work together to beat the Coronavirus, to save lives, to protect the NHS and to save the carnival from future cancellations. Please follow the government’s guidelines. Stay indoors as much as possible, protect yourself and others and practice social distancing at all times when you do go out. Stay safe and we’ll see each other on the road in 2021.
Carnival Family Come Together, March – August
The carnival community, or carnival family, really came together to support and help each other out during the national lockdown. DJ Toro kept people entertained with daily live streams on Facebook, the Team Creative carnival troupe helped out with dropping off food parcels and other items to families in need, and AnonyMas’s ‘Socacise’ and RJC Dance’s ‘Where U R’ videos on YouTube and Facebook helped to keep people fit. On 9 May the Yorkshire Evening Post reported on RJC Dance’s online sessions. “RJC Dance, the award-winning inclusive Black British dance company based in Chapeltown, launched RJC Dance Where U R at the very start of lockdown” wrote Tony Gardner. It was reported that thousands of people from around the world, as far afield as the Netherlands and Canada, had been taking part in the sessions which included Nillanthie Morton’s Socacise classes and Tricia Arthur-Stubbs twice weekly RJC Dance Kidz Zone. RJC Dance Director Kathy Williams spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post saying “We have a reputation as an inclusive dance organisation and we’re committed to vitality, active participation and creativity. Never before have we needed to fulfill that commitment more than now, to inspire and support our community through these difficult times.”
The Caribbean restaurant Maureen’s on Roundhay Road also played an important role in supporting the community during the lockdown. The restaurant’s ‘A Taste from Home’ scheme provided free meals to vulnerable people, new mothers, and frontline workers in Leeds 8. Speaking to Community Highlights, Maureen Wilkes, the owner and manager of Maureen’s said “When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Leeds I thought it was only right to give back to the community as if it wasn’t for them my business wouldn’t stand today”.
UK Carnivals Cancelled, April & May
On 10 April Soca News reported “Coronavirus shuts down carnivals across the globe” by which time a number of British carnivals had been cancelled including Bristol, Luton and Oxford. On 7 May it was announced that the Notting Hill Carnival in London was also cancelled. Reading, Derby, Sheffield, Leicester and Manchester would all later announce that their carnivals were cancelled for 2020. On 11 May it was announced that the Salute to Reggae concert, due to be held in Millennium Square in August, was postponed to 5 August 2021.
A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message, May
The short documentary film ‘A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message’ was released to the public in May 2020. The film was made by Yorkshire filmmaker Rhea Storr in 2018 and includes footage of the 2018 Leeds West Indian Carnival with a special focus on the Harrison Bundey Mama Dread troupe. The film was part of the programme Between Worlds and was commissioned as a part of the Louis Le Prince Experimental Film Prize. In an interview published on flatpackfestival website in May Rhea Storr said:
I won the prize upon proposing a new film which would look at Leeds West Indian Carnival, it’s history and connection to forms of power. I wanted to refute the idea that carnival is benign or purely about play. Often, I think people wrongly assume that because carnival is a form of popular culture, it has nothing political or intellectually challenging to say. That’s not true. At the same time I wanted to explore a certain frustration at trying to convey a mixed-race perspective.
The film was made available for free on flatpackfestival.org.uk between 4 and 13 May and was later uploaded to the Somerset House Youtube channel on 2 September.
Leeds West Indian Carnival and Black Lives Matter, May & June
The murder of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of a racist police officer in the United States on 25 May brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront once again. Among the many people speaking out against police violence towards black people was the Leeds West Indian Carnival committee chairman Arthur France. Speaking to BBC Look North on 3 June, Arthur France said “I’m very bitter about it. Just not upset, I’m bitter”. He added “what we’ve seen now has been happening all the time, every day in America.” Arthur went on to say “When I look at another black person, I see myself. You cannot tell me you’re killing my brother in America, or any part of the world, and it doesn’t upset me. It’s very upsetting.” Khadijah Ibrahiim and Jamal Gerald were also interviewed by the BBC. Arthur France also gave an interview to the Yorkshire Evening Post, published on 6 June, telling them:
I am very connected mentally and culturally to my African heritage and what happened to the people of Africa. We can go as far back as we want to go back, I remember it all. The racist attacks on Martin Luther, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis, George and Jonathan Jackson. I kept up to date on these issues over the years.
Arthur France went on to criticise the British education system saying: “The British education system is a whole backwards system. I grew up thinking England was the home of education then I get here and find that you don’t teach people history.” Arthur France went on to speak about the Leeds West Indian Carnival and its importance in society. He said:
As much as people think I am a lover of carnival, I don’t think most people understand why Leeds Carnival has lasted for 52 years. It’s not just pretty costumes and music, it is the meaning behind the whole culture of it. It is about the emancipation and that’s why we have a service every Sunday before carnival to remember our forefathers. They paid the price. When people come they look at the bling but the costumes speak volumes about our whole history. We chase why we are here, what makes us who we are and make sure we never, ever forget our forefathers.
Throughout June there was a number of protests in Leeds in support of the Black Live Matter movement including large gatherings at Millennium Square on 14 June and Woodhouse Moor on 21 June. DJ Trini brought a touch of Soca to the protest at Millennium Square on 14 June playing songs like Alison Hinds’ ‘Togetherness’ from the steps of the Civic Hall. Arthur France was one of the speakers at the Woodhouse Moor demonstration. Speaking to a crowd of thousands, he said “I didn’t ask to be born black, I was just lucky to be born black.” Arthur went on to speak about the importance of education and once again pointing out the racism in Britain’s educational system. Arthur France also briefly spoke about the Leeds West Indian Carnival saying “People need to understand Leeds West Indian Carnival is a celebration of emancipation.
Financial Support For Leeds West Indian Carnival, June
In June, it was announced that Leeds-based carnival troupes would be among the artists that would be granted funds from the Arts Council England. On 16 June the Yorkshire Post reported that 738 emergency Coronavirus response grants, totaling £5 million, were to be handed out to individuals and independent organisations in Yorkshire to help ease the immediate pressures faced by artists over the summer. The Leeds West Indian Carnival were granted £30,824 to replace loss in earned income, to ensure the charity was sufficiently resourced to cover its monthly running costs, and to support the Leeds-based carnival designers, many of whom had already bought materials. An unnamed spokesperson told the Yorkshire Post:
These are mainly volunteers, whose houses are completely over taken by sequins, feathers and glitter. They have already brought materials, so what we want to do with the money is to support our designers in their art forms. We’re exploring ways in which we can still use their art in some way. We still want to bring our culture to the people of Leeds in some way.”
Among the carnival troupes that had already made plans for 2020’s Leeds West Indian Carnival was Unity Carnival Arts, run by Sheila Howarth and her brother Raymond Wilkes. The troupe’s theme for 2020 was to be the rainbow. 2020 was also planned to be Sheila and Raymond’s finial year as costume designers. In a statement on her Facebook page, posted on 6 April, Sheila Howarth, speaking on behalf of herself and her brother Raymond, wrote:
We decided that we have designed and made costumes for our group Unity Carnival Arts for young people with young people in Leeds for a number of years and 2020 was our last year as we were handing over our reins to the young people who we have trained up.