Darcus Howe sees little of merit in Notting Hill

Dance at the carnival has become like lap dancing: costumes barely cover essentials

I thought that this year I would shuffle through the Notting Hill Carnival more or less incognito, measuring the quality of the content. I was slightly hampered by a severely torn cartilage in the knee, and therefore limped through the weekend rather cautiously.

First, on the Saturday night, there was the annual steel band competition, known as the Panorama. I am a supporter of the Mangrove steel band - indeed, one of its founders - and have been associated with it in campaigning against police malpractice and interference in the carnival.

In the pitch-black night, only a handful of steel bands turned up. Rain fell, bucket a drop, as we say in the Caribbean. The music was OK; it was just nothing to write home about. The Mangrove imported a genius of an arranger from Trinidad, but the members of the band were not able to play the intricacies of the song. He had to be satisfied with the ordinary. To be blunt, it was a second-rate performance all round. The entire competition was miserably organised. Lack of catering, and a complete absence of toilets even, contributed to an unbearable evening.

It was not much better on the following days, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. The organisers constantly babble about performance art, about original and unique music, about the art of costuming, about dance and choreography. There is very little artistic value in it. Of the one million people who converge on Notting Hill, barely 2,500 are dressed in costumes. Some are recycled from the previous year, and almost all plagiarise Trinidad past and present.

As for dance at the carnival, there is little to differentiate it from lap dancing, with costumes barely covering essentials.

All of which is fine by me. But when the organisers try to abuse the term "diversity", and to seek entry into the world of art, then it all becomes witless and humourless.

Chris Mullard, the new chairman, whose knowledge of carnival is zilch, speaks about taking it upmarket to Hyde Park, or somewhere similar, to display its unrecognised artistic talents. But the music, which bounces off the walls of the houses in Notting Hill, would be lost in the wide-open spaces and exposed for its ordinariness.

The Notting Hill Carnival is really an ethnic celebration of the vivacity of Caribbean immigrant life. And that is all.