source: The Guardian
published: 25 August 2017
Benjamin Zephaniah’s 1998 poem Carnival Days is a lyrical love letter to the Notting Hill carnival, where “We dance like true survivors / We dance to the sounds of our dreams.” Or, more accurately, it’s a love letter to what the carnival once was. He still supports the event, which takes place in London this weekend, and plans to be there on Monday, but reckons it has become less innocent, less spontaneous in the two decades since he wrote his poem. These days, even dreams have to be policed – and ideally sponsored.
“It’s become more corporate and – to some people this might sound positive – more organised,” he says. “Stalls have to pay a fee; sponsors get involved. People used to take to the streets and do it for themselves. They’d say: ‘I’ll sell some food on this corner; you sell some food on that corner.’ It was organised anarchy. There was no big committee. There was a group of people and that was it. Now, it’s all about liaising with the police, which for me takes away the spirit of us really taking to the streets.”
The idea that we are in control, that we run things, that the authorities have nothing to do with this and the police have to stay out there – that’s gone.”
Zephaniah says the carnival had a particular resonance in the late 1970s and 80s, when he became a regular attender and started performing his poetry there, because “there were no jobs for young black people and there were places we couldn’t go because of the NF or the way they [those places] were policed.