St Pauls Carnival is a celebration of the rich African-Caribbean roots that flow through Bristol. The streets flock with locals and visitors who come to experience the music, art, food and culture that connect this city to Caribbean and African shores. It is a tradition that is cherished by locals and its importance to the identity of Bristol remains imperative. 

St Pauls Carnival is a celebration of the rich African-Caribbean roots that flow through Bristol

One person that recognises that as much as anyone is LaToyah McAllister-Jones, the new executive director of St Pauls Carnival. Nitelife had the opportunity to sit down with her and find out more about her story and her thoughts on the Carnival.

LaToyah brought her family from Brighton to Bristol, after originally living in London, and says one of the key factors to that move was ‘the roots that are very deep and embedded into the city’. She insisted it was important that her children grew up in a city with a strong African-Caribbean community. 

‘Brighton’s great, but it’s nowhere near as diverse and it doesn’t have the subculture of somewhere like this that feels much older and much more developed’ she says.

LaToyah has been an avid Carnival attendee since her youth, she recalled attending Notting Hill Carnival as an eight year old and being amazed by the ‘mind blowing sounds, food and people’ and a culture that really resonated with her, being half Guyanese and half Jamaican.

LaToyah’s career path has been an interesting one, and one that has kept her deeply involved with whatever community she is in. ‘I started out in the homelessness sector, working towards social justice and equality – I think that’s what draws me to most of my roles.’

working towards social justice and equality draws me to most of my roles

Following that, she took on a consultancy role where she would help small social businesses with team development and people development. But it was her time at Bristol radio station Ujima that helped her reach the position she is in now. Working as the head of operations, she was playing a vital role in pushing for social equality through creativity within her community.

‘The thread that runs through these organisations is that they all contribute significantly to achieving social equality. It’s about giving a platform to the creativity of black and ethnic minority artists and moving those artists into traditional spaces that they wouldn’t normally have access to, and also telling our stories in non-traditional spaces.’

It’s about giving a platform to the creativity of black and ethnic minority artists

With this year’s Carnival being her first as director, LaToyah says she is determined to make it an ‘engaging, fun and inclusive day for everybody.

‘This year I’m really focussing on what we offer families. I’m also really keen to make sure that we have the participation – the great support in the city and within the community – to make sure that people are able to access Carnival in lots of different ways. If you’re a trader, come and trade. If you want to help out, come and volunteer for us.

I’m really keen to make sure (…) that people are able to access Carnival in lots of different ways

‘At this stage, with not long to go, I’m really focused on just making sure that those foundation elements – the procession, the sound systems and the great talent on the stages – are of really high quality.’

Bristol is famous for its connection to Caribbean sound system culture which birthed some of the city’s favourite music genres such and drum and bass, dubstep and grime, and dub music. And LaToyah believes it is important for there to be a celebration of this music, where it came from and what it means to the city. 

St Pauls stands out from other Caribbean Carnivals because Bristol has a very strong Jamaican sound system tradition

‘I see St Pauls Carnival as being a conversation between the African Caribbean community and the wider city. I think the music tradition is really important in this city and St Pauls stands out from other Caribbean Carnivals because Bristol has a very strong Jamaican sound system tradition. So I’m really keen to keep that in place in terms of the stages and the artists’ performances.’

LaToyah also wants to keep the performances as Bristol based as possible, to showcase local talent and give homegrown artists a platform to show off their work.

‘We have a Bristol first policy at St Pauls Carnival. We’re really about showcasing Bristol talent. We have a homegrown section on each of our stages where artists from Bristol get to showcase their talent in collectives. It’s all about what’s coming out of our city.

We have a Bristol first policy at St Pauls Carnival (…) It’s all about what’s coming out of our city

‘We want to encourage and bring people into our home as well; we had one hundred thousand people come last year. So although we’re working with that Bristol first policy, we are also interested in inviting quality talent from outside of the city to come along and get involved in the Carnival and bring in people from outside to come and explore.’

LaToyah is also very keen to push the importance of this year’s theme – ‘our journey’ –as well, which she says is ‘based on the originators, the elders within the community who overcame obstacles and personal struggles around finding a new identity and belonging. It’s about paying homage and acknowledging their achievements.

the originators, the elders within the community who overcame obstacles and personal struggles around finding a new identity and belonging

‘You will find that celebration of their achievements embedded across the whole carnival. You’ll see it in the procession; you’ll hear it on the stages. The theme is really important to us this year and I think it’s something that resonates with everybody – with all our own individual journeys.’

Photos by Martin Thompson // @thefacecollective

6 July – St Pauls Carnival, St Pauls
stpaulscarnival.net

@stpaulscrnvl

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