Leeds West Indian Carnival: a mad idea that work


Words: Lauren Entwistle
Illustration: Hana Skarratt (@hanaskillustration)
Photography: @shotbysodium @thetomogram


Despite the explosion of colour, music and pageantry, the Leeds West Indian Carnival started from fairly humble beginnings. In 1967, the idea formed from a group of West Indian Students studying at the University of Leeds, who decided they would channel their homesickness into something special. They would celebrate all that made their culture so vibrant, but bring it whirling and screaming to their new stomping ground in Yorkshire.

Thus, the Leeds West Indian Carnival was born.

Fifty years on, the Carnival is still thriving and now holds the prestigious title of being the longest-running Caribbean Carnival in Europe, showing that things can only get better with age. The festival has seen huge changes throughout its long lifespan, but despite modernised surroundings and new generations taking to the parade – the Carnival itself has not lost one bit of its original spirit and unbridled energy that so many remember.

It’s a huge event in the Leeds social calendar, with some members of the West Indian community planning their glittering parade outfits up to a year in advance, stocking up on the brightly-coloured feathers and sequins that catch both the light and attention of parade-watchers.

The legacy of the West Indian Carnival is something different depending on who you ask in Leeds. To some it really is those costumes that still dance in their minds eye, over twenty years from when they first saw them. To others, it’s the feeling of pride that their culture is out on the streets, celebrated and appreciated by a huge variety of people who religiously come every year.

But the real legacy is in the faces of those shimmying in the parade and those who are awe-struck watching from the side. Some are old, some are new, all hailing from different backgrounds, creeds and cultures – all here to have one hell of a good time and to celebrate one of the main cornerstones of the Leeds community.

Fifty years on from when it was first dreamed up by a handful of students, the spirit of the Leeds West Indian Carnival is still going strong.

And like Carnival, it only gets louder, bigger and bolder from here on in.

 


“I felt we need something to bind us more together …the community”

“That for me is the burning passion in me that give me the energy to drive Carnival.”

“It was a mad idea that work”


“The Carnival adds so much cultural diversity and it’s a great opportunity for people from all backgrounds to share something. For it to be around for 50 years is really special.” – Rajdeep, Chapel Allerton

“It’s a top weekend where people can get out, have fun and enjoy all the food and culture. The atmosphere is great.” – Parma, Leeds City

“My parents used to take me and my siblings all the time. My sister is being very persuasive about us going for the 50th! It’s a big flash of colour and I don’t think you can get close to replicating that feeling when everyone is dancing and enjoying themselves.”Zoe, Leeds City

“It’s a great way to celebrate multiculturalism in Leeds. Crowds come from all over, and it opens everybody’s eyes to the type of people who live in Leeds. People who have never been before should definitely go and see what that part of the city is about, because it’s the best.” – Henry, Burley

“It’s a great way to celebrate multiculturalism in Leeds. Crowds come from all over, and it opens everybody’s eyes to the type of people who live in Leeds. People who have never been before should definitely go and see what that part of the city is about, because it’s the best.” – Henry, Burley

“The thing that really stands out for me every time are the drums. It’s proper West Indian music and everyone is together and enjoying the atmosphere.” – Heather, Leeds City

“I went to one of the very first Parades, nearly fifty years ago when I was a small child. It wasn’t very big, but I can still recall the loudness, the feathers, the music. The West Indian Carnival is pure happiness. It’s a really big event and it’s just got bigger, which is brilliant.” Sheryl, Adel

“It has so much cultural importance. That representation is such a necessity, as Leeds is a really vibrant city and it brings so many together for one event.”  – Michael, Kirkstall

The parade is so colourful and really popular – I used to teach children at a school in Leeds, and it was all they would be talking about the week leading up to it and the week after. It’s a great community event, highlighting how multicultural the city is. There is a feeling of togetherness.” – Katie, Bradford

“It draws a lot of people in and it means an awful lot to them. There is originality and something vibrant about the West Indian community. It’s very welcoming, which I also think is part of the Parade being up North!” Craig, Leeds City 

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