Rolling Stone recent article, “Sound of the Streets: How Sound Systems Shaped Notting Hill Carnival,” provides a riveting exploration of the profound impact of sound systems on London’s famed Notting Hill Carnival. This sonic innovation, birthed in the working-class neighbourhoods of Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1940s, has left an indelible imprint on the global music landscape.
Leslie Palmer, who envisioned the potential of these sound systems to be a great addition to the Notting Hill Carnival line up back in 1973, is the central figure in this narrative. Recognizing the Carnival’s declining appeal, Palmer introduced sound systems as a way to rejuvenate the event and connect with the British-born Caribbean youth. His influence continues to resonate, as “the musical innovations that have swelled carnivals numbers from a few thousand, to the millions of people who now attend Europe’s largest street party every year.”
The article also pays tribute to key figures like Lady Benton, who championed female representation within the dancehall genre. As the co-founder of the first-ever all-female sound system at the Carnival in 1994, she has consistently brought ‘clean’ Dancehall to her audiences, revealing “the joy and love imbued within the sound system experience” according to Rolling Stone UK.
The Rolling Stone feature stresses the critical role of sound systems culture in fostering several non-Jamaican music genres such as hip-hop, techno, and house. These musical pioneers, despite financial and logistical challenges, continue to thrive due to their ability to connect physically and viscerally with audiences. As D.J. Lil C points out in the article, “Music isn’t a tangible thing, but the loud and beating bass of sound speakers, vibrating and rattling through the chest, connects with people in such a physical way.”
However, amidst the celebration of this rich legacy, the article does not shy away from voicing concerns over the future of the Notting Hill Carnival and sound systems considering significant funding cuts. It underlines the need for more investment and education about the carnival and its rich history and cultural significance, reminding us of Angela Essien’s powerful words: “Carnival contributes millions of pounds to the UK economy, yet it doesn’t get the same investment back, they are going to end up killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”
This comprehensive piece by Rolling Stone UK, “Sound of the Streets: How Sound Systems Shaped Notting Hill Carnival”, offers an invaluable perspective on the transformative influence of sound systems on the Notting Hill Carnival, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the richness of the British/Jamaican music history and its cultural impacts.