One Vibration: Voices of St Pauls Carnival

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

by Finn White, Engagement Officer – Communities

A new M Shed display on Bristol’s greatest community festival

‘The people were like one vibration that day. Do you know what I mean?‘ –  Trini, project participant.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of St Pauls Carnival, we recruited a bunch of volunteers, trained them up in oral history techniques and sent them out to gather stories about the event.

We weren’t after a comprehensive history but were instead interested in the personal stories behind it. We not only hoped to unearth some of the ‘unsung heroes’ that have made Carnival what it is, but to get a sense of what it means to the community.

© Jasmine Thompson

The stories that came back showed wonder at the intensity of the event, pride in the cultures it represents and fury at creeping commercialisation and recent cancellations.

We also heard the deep impact Carnival has had on careers, on personal development and on identity. ‘I can’t begin to contemplate what my life would be like without the experiences of Carnival’ said one participant.

Having personally only ever attended the event as a punter and someone without a cultural connection to Carnival’s origins I had not realised the significance the event has or the deep passions it regularly arouses. ‘I can’t talk about it’ said one local shopkeeper ‘it makes me too angry to think what is has now become’.

A number of people refused to talk to us, perhaps saw us as too close to the authorities who have previously closed it down. Others are just happy that it’s still going and willing to support whatever new form it must take.

Despite the anger and regardless of what people thought about recent developments, something magical happened to the eyes of those who were recounting their own golden days at Carnival.

It is or was more than just a festival, it was a place to discover who you were, to explore your hidden histories and to unite with your neighbours. It was a time to make your much-maligned neighbourhood  the most beautiful place in town.

To ensure that every part of the project was rooted in the experiences of African-Caribbean Bristol we recruited two young artists of African-Caribbean heritage to produce illustrations and original photography for the display.

Illustration by Jasmine Thompson showing African Caribbean women dancing in traditional carnival outfits and headdresses, surrounded by sound systems and people playing the drums

© Jasmine Thompson

The beautiful work of Jasmine Thompson (illustration) and Aiden Harmitt-Williams (photography) has helped create a unique feel for our display and helped provide a platform for these two talented young artists.

The narratives you can hear in One Vibration are just a few drops from this vast sea of stories, but we hope it shows some of Carnival’s power and inspires you to explore the history and reality of the event and of the community of St Pauls.

If you would like to add your story to this project or have any questions about how it was developed, please let us know.

You can also see this display online.

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