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Seani B's carnival countdown continues

KALEIDOSCOPE OF COLOUR: Dexter Khan, centre, has been vital to the success of Notting Hill Carnival

A FEW years ago, I was pushed or forced (you can choose which you believe to be the case) to play Mas at carnival.

This meant full costume out on the road all day – doing carnival the right way. I wasn’t best pleased, being a DJ carnival for me was visiting several sites like Rampage Sound (who we spoke to in last week’s column).

I have to be honest, the closest I had ever been to playing Mas was after 7pm when all the sounds are locked off and you are made to go on to the carnival route if you want to enjoy more of your bank holiday weekend.

But the experience I had that year was second to none.

I did adapt my outfit a little, which was a full gladiator’s ensemble. Cup in hand ready for a refill, I walked and whined with the selective moments of jumping. The plus side was the women loved the costume and it attracted a few that wanted a cheeky bubble with the “gladiator”, kna mean?!

The harsh reality, though, is to experience carnival in this manner is not a cheap thing to do, even though I would highly recommend it to anyone. I’ve heard “jumping” in a band can cost anything up to £200 if you want to wear more than a T-shirt.


A person that knows all about playing Mas, getting themes and costumes ready, and whatever other marvels you may see on the carnival route is Dexter Khan.

You may not know his name but you would know the organisation he has been part of from 1983 – Cocoyea London.

My relationship with Cocoyea started in the mid-90s when my friends realised it was an event that we should attend because of the sheer number of women who attend! This is what going out was about in my late teens. Is there nuff gyal there? Many of us were not soca music lovers but we quickly learnt what songs that we could teef a whine on!

Dexter tells me the real reason why Cocoyea London was formed. “It was me, Smokey Joe and Martin Jay who started an event in Swiss Cottage way back when the music was crossing over from Calypso to Soca.

“We decided to use the event to push the Soca music to the younger generation who [were] black British, but they [were] more British than their parents from the Caribbean.”

The Cocoyea team saw the rise of artists like Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin in the Caribbean among the youth, and jumped at the opportunity of following this trend in the UK.
As someone detached from that music because Calypso was my dad’s music, I think their plan worked. It wasn’t just the parties, though, every year you can see the Cocoyea Mas band out on the roads of west London donning their flamboyant colours and feathers. Dexter tells me this work starts as early as November.

“People start deciding on what is the theme for next year, then start looking for materials. This year we have five new young designers that we have told our theme is ‘Sankofa’ and told them to design around that.

“Bring your friends and you control that section, be part of something.”

Youth involvement seems to be priority for Dexter as a someone who seeks to preserve this rich culture. I wanted to find out about his preparation for carnival, and he was more than keen to tell me about the problems that we face.

“We protested for this in the days of the Mangrove, we fought against the establishment.


“I am scared carnival can end up like the millennium celebration when the bands were going down The Mall. All the trucks and ting – gone, and it will just be a parade,” he tells me.
As a bona de carnival veteran he was not shy to offer some suggestions and some radical changes to the carnival route.

“Reverse the route and let’s see if it releases the congestion. We have been doing this same route for 15 years and some- times you are in one place for over an hour.”

As drastic as that may seem, who am I to argue with someone who has been working this scene since 1983? It seems strange to me that someone with that level of experience doesn’t seem to be listened to by the so- called powers that be. I wonder why...

As mentioned earlier, Sankofa is the chosen theme for Cocoyea Mas band for this year.
“Sankofa is a Gambian word for looking back and then going forward – that’s the one with the bird looking backward,” Dexter says.

This falls in line with what Dexter and Cocoyea seem to be all about – tradition, but with it driven by youth.

I can’t praise Dexter or his team enough, a true-to-life doing it for the love and not the likes. These men and women live the culture 24/7.

If you fancy a real carnival experience, go and check out the black and white costumes on the Cocoyea website:

Sadly, I will be working over the weekend otherwise who knows, the Gladiator may have made a triumphant return...

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