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Michael Roberts was the sole masquerader at the Notting Hill Carnival this year.

Soyini Grey

How do you have a carnival during a pandemic? For Notting Hill Carnival’s management team, it meant using technology to allow as many people, who wanted to take part in the festival to do so while remaining apart from each other.

This year, instead of a street parade, filled with masqueraders and music trucks, the roads were empty. The crowds were redirected to their homes, and the Notting Hill Carnival website to watch profiles of costume designers and soca stars, to learn to cook Caribbean foods or enjoy a show.

It has been dubbed by some as the world’s first digital carnival. But the Executive Director of the Carnival Matthew Phillip is not so sure about that title.

“I never exactly used the word, ‘Digital Carnival’… we didn’t have a Carnival. It’s not Carnival unless you are on the streets. That’s a straight fact. What we did this year was celebrate carnival,” he says.

And chief within that mandate, to “celebrate carnival,” was putting a spotlight on the pioneers of the London’s West Indian Carnival, many of whom, he says are still alive.

“I think that they shouldn’t be able to walk the streets without being mobbed because everybody loves carnival,” he says.

“But I want the public, the community to celebrate them as they’ve given us something amazing!”

While most heeded the call to stay away, the carnival jumbie in Michael Roberts was too strong for him to resist. When the road called he answered, and went viral doing so.

A video of Roberts, in full costume and filmed from above, chipping to Machel Montano and Vybz Kartel’s collaboration for 2020 “Super Soca,” was shared widely on social media networks from Tik Tok to Facebook and Instagram.

Roberts says people rushed out of restaurants and stores to greet him asking where was the Carnival.

“I am the carnival!” he said.

Roberts says everything he did that day was guided by his spirit. His friend D’Jorn Fevrier has similar plans. The two met up on the road, neither one knowing what the other had planned.

Fevrier walked the route on Sunday and Monday. His grandmother owned the mas band Flamingo Carnival Arts. Growing up surrounded by mas making taught him practical innovation. A skill he says lead him to a career in Robotic Engineering, into a job with Dyson, straight out of university.

Fervrier, whose family is from St Lucia and St Vincent, is married to a Trinidadian. He says he knows some people think that carnival is nothing more than a party, and he admits that for some that is all it ever would be, for him it runs deeper.

“I had to remind myself, you are here for everything that this has brought you. So you need to enjoy this moment to the fullest. It could be my last carnival,” he says.

For most, the hope is that by the time Notting Hill 2021 rolls around, the street parade will be allowed to take place. Phillip says they started planning this year’s events from as early as May, and he is pleased with how everything turned out. Back at home, the National Carnival Commission is already looking to its future. It has already started meeting with stakeholders to map the way forward for Trinidad Carnival 2021. That proposal will be presented to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts in two weeks.