Pax is a man who knows about parties. From the Isiolo Peace Carnival in Kenya to the Hull International Carnival here in the UK, this renowned carnival expert has set up events around the world. He has taught the people of Luton, Accra, Trinidad, Deptford and Abuja how to throw a successful street party, and has worked as an advisor, organiser, fundraiser and artistic director for bodes including the Arts Council and the British Council, as well as teaching carnival courses at Goldsmiths. This gently spoken but visionary Malawian-Zimbabwean is also a VJ (visual DJ), photographer, bass player and guitarist, performing with legendary Ghanaian highlife rapper Ata Kak. Pax took time out of a 36-stop European tour to tell Inside Hackney about his work on the Hackney One Carnival.
‘The event has its origins in the Centerprise organisation in Dalston in the 1970s – the Street Carnival Theatre was held in De Beauvoir back in 1973. This is my fourth year working as artistic director on the Hackney Carnival. When I first got involved the parade culminated in a park, but I feel strongly that carnival is all about the street, so now we start and finish the party at Ridley Road, with a judging point right outside the town hall where the buses usually stop. We run four sound systems on Ridley Road, and because we want to involve young people we dedicate one sound system to the NTS radio station.
We like to incorporate a lot of different elements, but the main thing is that this is a peaceful event. We want it to be for elderly people and even for those who are afraid of crowds, so we run competitions along the route where locals decorate their own homes, meaning they can contribute even if they don’t want to be out amongst the partying. Our carnival belongs to all the people in Hackney.
Most carnivals have big committees, but we are funded by the Council, so we are able to give out small grants to different groups to produce costumes and do their own thing. We don’t advertise the event – it’s all about word of mouth. And the word is that it’s better than Notting Hill! That’s because it is safer, peaceful and owned by locals – most of the participants are Hackney residents. We don’t want to become victims of our own success and become too crowded. Ridley Road is now beginning to outgrow capacity, so we’re looking at expanding the route and changing some locations.
Everyone has a child inside them, and carnival brings that child out. The roots of carnival art forms are in Africa, where everyday life and dance are a carnival. Through carnival people learn to express themselves and truly communicate, and that’s why I love it.’
Hackney One Carnival is held on the second Sunday of September each year.