“Before you read any book, first research the author.” These words were spoken to me by Arthur France MBE during the spring of 2017. Why research the author? “Because everyone has an agenda.”
So, what’s my agenda?
The purpose of this blog, Leeds Mas Media, is to tell the story of West Indian Carnival in Britain with a focus on Leeds West Indian Carnival. I aim to tell the history of Carnival in Britain as honestly as possible. Using the media of a blog allows me to do that. A blog allows me to go back and correct any mistakes I may make or update posts when new information becomes available.
I’ve never known life without Leeds West Indian Carnival. I was born in Leeds in 1986 and I attended my first Carnival later that year but I like to tell people I’ve been attending Leeds West Indian Carnival since before I was born. My parents have been going to Carnival together since 1983 and my mother even went to a couple before that. She was pregnant with me in August 1985 but went to Carnival regardless. She hasn’t missed a single Carnival since 1981. She was there for the 21st Anniversary, the 25th Anniversary, the 30th, 40th and 50th Anniversary. Her family came to Leeds in 1965 and her sister dated Sonny Marks, the lead singer of the Steel Pan Band The Caribbeans at the height of their fame in the mid-sixties. They had a daughter together, my cousin, making Sonny my uncle. Sonny Marks, born in St.Kitts, is just one part of the “Caribbean side” of our family. We have other family members from St. Kitts and Jamaica, so Caribbean Culture has never seem ‘exotic’ to me, it was just another part of life. The same can be said for my mother who grew up jammin’ to the sweet sounds of Reggae being played by sound systems like Majestic and dancing the night away in the ‘Blues’ clubs held in people’s basements in the early 80s. Later, my parents would go to
Carnival together and my dad would help pull the floats along from Potternewton Park, around the entire route and then back to the park. Back in those days our family’s spot was on the corner of Shepherds Lane and Roundhay Road. My grandmother lived on Bankside Street, just one street away. In the 1990s and early 2000s our ‘spot’ changed to outside the Fforde Grene pub at the other end of Roundhay Road. Most of my Carnival memories come from this period. I grew up with Soca in my blood. I remember hearing ‘Follow The Leader’, ‘Doggie’ and ‘Jump And Wave’ for the first time while dancing down Roundhay Road. I remember the first time my mum let me and my sister follow the last truck the entire route. I also remember how much my feet hurt by the time we reached Chapeltown Road. I remember my older cousins attending the first J’Ouvert Morning and I remember when my sister was a member of one of the troupes. That was also the first year I took my own photos of Leeds West Indian Carnival.
I’ve been attending Leeds West Indian Carnival for 31 years now (not counting the one in ’85 that I spent in the womb). It is an annual event that I always look forward to and is up there with birthdays and Christmas. 2017 was always going to be a big year for Leeds West Indian Carnival, the 50th Anniversary. In the spring I was part of the Carnival Chronicles team, researching Carnival history and collecting oral histories. This work was used in a special exhibition at the Tetley in Leeds and was interwoven into the play ‘Carnival Chronicles’ written by Zodwa Nyoni. During the year, one phrase that kept cropping up was ‘half the story has never been told’. This blog is my attempt to tell the full story, a story I have known and loved all my life, a story I have lived. To tell the story I will look at the history, culture and people behind Leeds West Indian Carnival. Leeds West Indian Carnival is about much more than just a weekend every August. It is about the Steel Pan Bands, the Calypso and Soca stars, the dancers and the costume makers. This is their story, this is our story.