Notting Hill Carnival London

Carnival is not all drinking Special Brew and being cheeky to policemen. Some people have to work, and hard. Surrounding carnival, a network of concerts, jams, and miscellaneous jollification brings a couple of dozen of the Caribbean's top soca entertainers to London in August, on a circuit which includes the major Caribbean cities of Canada and continues back via New York for Labor Day celebrations.

Around 3am on carnival Monday, Austin Lyons, aka Superblue, a Trinidadian former fisherman recycled via his massive 1991 hit "Get Something and Wave" into the island's biggest dance star, was to be found waiting backstage at the UN Club in Tottenham, three hours late to perform. On stage, the Barbadian soca-rock fusion group Kross Fyah thumped out numbers such as "Oba Dele", the ode to a Barbadian runner which won Road March of '95 in the island's carnival equivalent and launched Kross Fyah as stars throughout the region. A heaving mass of teenage sirens in white-laced tights pumped their groins concentratedly and blew foghorns. Superblue and his group, the Love Band, readied themselves for their '96 Trinidad carnival hit "Bounce", in praise of a selection of resilient celebrities from Muhammad Ali to the Muppets. We all linked hands, said a prayer ending with the phrase "The word is soca, amen!" And then waited some more. I left at 4am, pleading a luncheon engagement with a carnival float. Blue apparently performed at 5am, but still wowed them.

Notting Hill is not the place to see the scurrilous, social commentary function still a part of calypso and soca - "jump up and wave something in the air" lyrics predominate, which can get boring. On the other hand, a greater range of individual islands' sounds is getting to be represented, challenging the Trinidadian domination.

The 10-piece St Lucia orchestra Reasons was around town, demonstrating their mix of French Antillean zouk and soca. I caught them in a colourful but staid show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, struggling doggedly with a small audience of besuited coffee-drinking anti-revellers, before they headed off to the Elite Night Club, formerly Dougies, in Hackney, for a rather more animated gig. Another Franco-English island, Dominica, was represented by the quartet WCK, who purveyed their own zouk mix around clubs in Southall and Hackney.

The emerging soca nation par excellence, though, is Barbados, which sent not only Kross Fyah but top calypsonians Gabby, Red Plastic Bag and Mac Fingall, author of one of the chief hits of this carnival, Big Belly Man ("I ain't dancing with no big belly man... I want a bony man..."). RPB, as he's known, and Fingall put on a great double act for a Dragon stout-swigging Barbadian audience in a Wembley school hall on Saturday, achieving a level of audience participation that would have had the majority of the world's entertainers green with envy.

Superblue, by the way, left for Trinidad "pissed off" with being kept hanging about, but professional to the end.

PHILIP SWEENEY

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