Horace Ové photograph of Trinidad Carnival showing a reveller in an elaborate bird suit
Get Up, Stand Up Now

Horace Ové and Notting Hill Carnival

Margaret Busby

22 Aug 2019

Margaret Busby was born in Ghana and educated in the UK, becoming Britain’s youngest and first Black woman publisher when she co-founded Allison & Busby in 1967. The publishing house published many notable authors of the time, including Trinidadian historian C.L.R James, jazz writer Val Wilmer, Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah and African-Amerian writer Sam Greenlee.

A friend of filmmaker and photographer Horace Ové - whose pioneering work forms the basis of our exhibition Get Up, Stand Up Now - here she remembers the importance of his early films and the rise of Carnival as a means of celebration and defiance for the Windrush generation.

“By the mid-1960s Britain was home to the largest overseas population of West Indians, and migrants from the African continent too. Those who settled came with aspirations for a better life, anticipating welcome by the “mother country” for which they had fought in two world wars. Such hopes were frequently disappointed, dashed against the realities of survival, of standing up to racism and prejudice, assimilating and adjusting expectations.

In the context of the growing disillusionment felt by many Black youth with British society, Horace Ové’s 1976 film Pressure would become a landmark as the UK’s first Black feature film. Examining the relationship between Black Britain, Africa and the Caribbean meant the negotiation of geographical, psychological and social borders and the definition of communal and individual identities.

Pressure (1976) by Horace Ové | The first British black feature film

Inevitably, collaborations and cross-fertilisations bred a richness of subject matter. Celebration marched alongside lamentation. On the streets of Notting Hill in 1966, carnival was born as an expression of unity among the area’s diverse communities. A few years earlier, in 1959, an indoor ‘Caribbean Carnival’ was organised by Claudia Jones in St Pancras Town Hall in response to recent race riots and attacks on Black people.

Photograph by Horace Ové showing revellers at Notting Hill Carnival in 1969
Horace Ové, Windrush Generation, 1969

As Ové’s 1973 documentary King Carnival looked at the history of Trinidad carnival, in Britain carnival took hold, not only as a spectacle to be observed or a ritual to be performed, but as a participatory and transformational art form, an adjunct to protest.

Children dressed as clowns at Trinidad Carnival in 1977
Horace Ové, Clowns – Trinidad, 1977
Children at Notting Hill Carnival in 1969
Horace Ové – First Generation – Ladbroke Grove, 1969

It would become one of the world’s largest street festivals, with the masquerade element remaining a centrepiece of Black expression, and the music – whether steel pan or sound system – always essential. That carnival themes, especially the ‘Moko Jumbie,’ figure so prominently in the work of Horace’s son, Zak Ové, is indeed a fitting tribute.

Notting Hill in the late 1960s was my stamping-ground too, though my life began in a different motherland – the African continent, where I was born in Ghana (stilt-walking traditional masqueraders are among my earliest memories). It was in the latter part of that decade that my literary career began and I met many of the personalities whose names still resonate.”

People dancing at a sound system at Nottting Hill Carnival in 1980
Horace Ové, Soundsystem London, 1980

Margaret Busby presents a panel discussion and readings with contributors from her landmark anthology, New Daughters of Africa, on Monday 09 September as part of our Get Up, Stand Up Now events programme. Book tickets here.

This blog post is an excerpt from the essay Get Up, Stand Up Now by Margaret Busby, published in the Get Up, Stand Up Now exhibition catalogue. Purchase the catalogue online.