Our arts contributor Mark Muldoon gets misty-eyed about everyone’s favourite street carnival.
It’s faintly astonishing that an event like Brixton Splash can be allowed to exist in 2015.Health and safety paranoia has gotten to the stage where our train stations have signs to remind people to be careful whilst using their staircases. Speaking as someone who can proudly claim to have mastered staircases in 1988, it’s a disconcerting feeling moving from this world straight into the hectic disarray of Brixton Splash: broken glass strewn across the street, and a chaotic mass of 20,000 revellers – often drunk, often jostling for space, and surprisingly often, having somehow come to the decision that flip-flops would be the most appropriate footwear with which to enter such an anarchic environment.
This beautiful chaos is a one day community street festival that always occurs on the first Sunday of August, to coincide with the 6th August anniversary of Jamaican Independence. Throughout the day I didn’t hear all that many revellers discussing the finer points of the British West Indian labour unrest of 1934–39, but then, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun isn’t going to dance to itself, is it?
It’s halfway through the event when I figure that authentic Tobagonian doubles would be the dream accompaniment to the day. After contemplating joining the very long queue at the Tobago food stall in Windrush Square, I instead ask people at the front of the queue if they’d buy us £4 of doubles if I give them £5. They flat out refuse – they’ve been in the queue for an hour and quite reasonably couldn’t care less…
The biggest reaction of the day is reserved for South London Samba, who – at 7pm when the festival has officially wound down – keep a huge crowd cheering and dancing for 45 minutes on Pope’s Road, with just a rousing 10-person drum ensemble.
It was pretty interesting recently to stumble across the fact that the UK is the most ethnically diverse country on the planet. Walking around Splash, it’s hard to escape what a wonderful phenomenon that is.
It’s long felt like Splash exists in a more fragile state than that of the Nottinghill Carnival. Many are upset about the direction the event has taken. Couple that with the amount of debris on the streets the next morning and you could be forgiven for feeling as though its future could be in jeopardy. But successful, thriving communities depend on how strong the events are that bring the whole community together.
Wondering around Splash on Sunday afternoon, I found it impossible not to feel that this is one of the things that shows the strengths of Brixton at their very best. It’s an event that’s worth standing up and celebrating.