Whether it’s online or on the streets, women have defined London’s huge celebration of Caribbean culture. We talk steel pans and skimpy costumes with the pioneers who set the tone

Sitting in a neat little cafe at the back of the Tabernacle, a Grade II-listed pub and arts venue in London’s Notting Hill, Sister Monica Tywang is reflecting on how much has changed since her association with the carnival began in 1975. “We’d call it the annual pilgrimage,” she says. “We didn’t have the ways of communicating then that we have today, so everybody looked forward to coming to Notting Hill, to meet other Caribbean people and to celebrate our culture.”

Today, Notting Hill carnival is an indelible part of the British cultural calendar. It dominates the August bank holiday weekend, as around a million people descend on west London for Europe’s largest street festival. Lining the white walls of the cafe are photos from carnival’s past, and Tywang can’t help but reminisce about the days they capture. “We brought colour to this country. After the war everything was black and grey and drab, smog was billowing out of the chimneys that everyone had in those days.”

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