Spotify's Leroy Harris on going bigger with this year's Notting Hill Carnival virtual experience

Spotify's Leroy Harris on going bigger with this year's Notting Hill Carnival virtual experience

Spotify has today gone live with its support for Notting Hill Carnival as an official partner for the second successive year. 

As part of the collaboration, Spotify has created an all-new Carnival Sounds experience, in collaboration with Notting Hill Carnival. Last year’s virtual curation is nominated for the Music Week Awards.

Here, Spotify UK & Ireland artist marketing lead Leroy Harris explains how the challenges of Covid can help broaden the reach with a virtual experience ahead of a full return in 2022...

One of the absolute highlights of the Black British cultural calendar, and a key date for anyone’s diary, Notting Hill Carnival is such a huge celebration of the many genres of Caribbean music, from soca to dancehall, reggae to ragga, jungle to calypso, and so much more. It’s more than just music to dance to - it’s a full expression of Black British culture’s beating heart and rhythm. The music and sounds are an essential part of the entire experience. Carnival is our community and culture at its absolute best, giving people a way to celebrate a shared heritage - it’s no surprise people flock from so far to celebrate together year after year.

With the pandemic taking Carnival off the streets once again this year, we wanted to show our continued support with Spotify as a lead partner for the second year running. At Spotify, we are deeply committed to supporting the Black community and elevating Black voices. Notting Hill Carnival is a monumental part of British and Caribbean culture: Spotify’s online platform and curation of Carnival provides an avenue for existing fans and those new to the experience alike, to continue to experience some of the utter joy of the weekend’s celebrations and what makes it so special. 

While nothing can compare to the experience of Carnival in person, we’re committed to making the best virtual experience possible alongside Notting Hill Carnival. It just felt right to partner for a second year with new content showcasing the importance of carnival culture in the UK.

With the pandemic taking Carnival off the streets once again this year, we wanted to show our continued support

Leroy Harris

Last year our Carnival Sounds microsite really aimed to bring the music of Carnival to life and gave visitors the chance to explore over 40 of the official Notting Hill Carnival sound systems and on-the-road DJs. We also worked with some of the UK’s leading Black creators in music, film, and entertainment to help guide fans through some of our most popular playlists. To accompany the amazing sounds, we also featured exclusive content from Ekua King, the renowned London-based British Jamaican photographer.

We’re going even bigger for 2021 with the new Carnival Sounds microsite launching today (August 26) ahead of the traditional weekend. 

We have some amazing guests who will be ‘on the decks’ curating playlists for us from the UK and beyond. We have the legendary Billy Ocean, West London’s own Wstrn, reggae superstar Protoje, dancehall king Dexta Daps, and football icon Ian Wright. We’re also seeing the return to the Carnival Sounds microsite of some much loved sound systems from the streets of Notting Hill including King Tubby’s and Rampage Sound, as well as DJ sets from a whole host of selectors including soca legend Martin Jay.

We’ll also be hosting and spotlighting a collection of special podcasts covering topics relating to Black culture in the UK including interviews with Beenie Man (Who We Be Talks), Norman Jay (Ace Records Podcast), and Matthew Phillip, the director of Notting Hill Carnival (Windrush Stories).

We’re also working with London-based multidisciplinary artist Bokiba who has created a stunning mural artwork for us, right in the heart of Notting Hill, capturing movement and sounds of Carnival as well as incorporating emojis as a nod to the virtual element of this year’s event. As with all of her work, women of colour are at the heart along with bold colours and patterns. The artwork mural features a scannable Spotify code so that passers-by can dive straight in, and immediately immerse themselves in the sounds and experiences of Carnival from their phones.

Showing the true breadth of culture that Notting Hill Carnival encompasses, we’re also delighted to have some of Britain’s foremost Black writers sharing their experiences of Carnival with us, exclusively for Spotify. Candice Carty-Williams, renowned author of Queenie, has penned a piece which touches on her own experiences around anxiety and overcoming this through being engulfed by the spirit of the carnival. Meanwhile, Malika Booker’s submission Carnival: Woman Is Boss is a sensory journey into the female empowerment of masquerade. James Massiah’s poem All Saints is a snapshot of memories, crowds, friends and vibes, while Eddie Otchere and Dawn Hill both share their own personal histories of carnival - totally different, yet united in the celebration of (to quote Eddie) “what good, people can do together. Visual artist, rapper and founder of Nine8 Collective Lava La Rue’s entry, Di Heir of Ladbroke Grove, is a poetic journey through Lava’s Carnival experience reflected against the recent football hooliganism of the summer.

Personally, I can’t wait for Notting Hill Carnival to return to the streets in its full glory in 2022. However, 2020 and 2021 have shown that there are ways to take it into the digital space and broaden the reach to the widest possible audience. I think we should build on this even if nothing beats the real thing!  

Spotify's Carnival Sounds microsite is here.

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