Summer in Bristol hasn’t felt the same without St Pauls Carnival. For too long have the streets been empty of people dancing to sound systems, wearing brightly coloured costumes, and enjoying some of the best food and music for miles around. But finally, celebrations are back on track as St Pauls Carnival 2023 will see the full return of the annual celebration of African and Caribbean culture.
What is St Pauls Carnival?
The first St Pauls Carnival was held in 1968 and started by the Caribbean community. The aim was to bring together African-Caribbean, Asian and European (like Irish) communities that had settled in the St Pauls area during the 1950s. Starting out, the emphasis was very much a local community event that saw locals selling home-cooked food from their gardens.
It’s been over 50 years since that initial festival and St Pauls Carnival has grown into one of the biggest calender events in Bristol. The annual Parade, various sound systems and delicious food stalls not only attract thousands from across the city but the whole country too. Due to its challenging growth, St Pauls was cancelled between 2015 and 2017. Again, due to Covid, the event moved online during 2020 and 2021.
Last year’s carnival was remarkably scaled down too. Where instead of a full public carnival, organizers introduced a smaller music, arts and community event, called Back A Yard. But for St Pauls Carnival 2023, the event will be back in full. It’s been too long!
What is happening at St Pauls Carnival 2023?
The full Carnival procession will take place on July 1, with more than 100,000 people due to celebrate in the heart of St Pauls. The main stage has been renamed the Roy Hackett Memorial Stage, in honour of one of the founders of the carnival and leaders of the Bristol Bus Boycott, who passed away last year. Headlining this stage are dub legends Horseman and the Upper Cut Band. They’ll be joined by the likes of Talisman, Laid Blak, Yemz, Moyah, Da Fuchaman, Josephine Gyasi and Z Regal.
While over on the second stage, the Radical Roots stage, attendees will discover a mix of activist-led cultural arts, featuring music, spoken word, dance and more. Headlining will be street poet Lawrence Hoo, also joined by Solomon OB, Bristol Windrush, the Reggae Choir, Malizah, The Golden Guild and Bristol djembe players Foli. Female and non-binary collective Booty Bass will DJ in the evening, plus a dancehall set from Grove, Ngaio, Bungzo, Hannza, Garoess and Kofo.
Veteran sound system operator Selecta Watson will return to Portland Square this year too with the Ghetto Force Sound System. St Pauls Carnival 2023 will also host a Raising Legends stage, featuring DJ McCoy Sway, DJ Eazy, DJ Chloe Sage, Born2Be Records and Creative Power Town. There’s also an official family and children’s area at this year’s Carnival, named Mandela’s Hideaway, showcasing local youth talent, grassroots artists and African and Caribbean creative workshops.
Afterwards, the Carnival vibes will continue with an official after-party at Motion. Tropix will see the likes of Robbo Ranx, DJ Maxy, DJ Larni, DJ Swivo and many more keep the party going from 10pm to 5am.
What about fringe events?
But that’s not all, as several Carnival Fringe events – under the theme of Learning From Legends – will celebrate and educate Afro-Caribbean culture and heritage in the build-up to the main event. This includes T20 Carnival Clash on June 17 at Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, a one-off Caribbean celebration at the Gloucestershire v Kent Spitfires Vitality Blast fixture.
Meanwhile the 75th anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush arriving in Britain will be marked with an evening of storytelling at Circomedia on June 21. Plus, on June 27, Inna Wi Carnival Cinema will show four short films charting Windrush legacy, Caribbean and Carnival Culture and Black Britain will show at the Trinity Centre.
St Pauls Carnival 2023 will also honour the 60th anniversary of the Bristol Bus Boycott. Particularly carnival organiser Roy Hackett MBE who passed away last August. In 1963, he challenged Bristol Omnibus Company’s racial discrimination in recruitment by introducing a boycott of the bus company. This in turn helped pave the way for the Race Relations Act 1965.
More details about St Pauls Carnival 2023 events should be made soon. If you’d like to learn more, and potentially get involved with the event, you can head to the website here.