The Sunny Side of Oxford – the Cowley Road Carnival


I rarely write about my home town but I thought that should end, especially when I have the wondrous Cowley Road Carnival on my doorstep. It seems this is the second largest street carnival after Notting Hill in the UK. So let’s take the day as it unfolds.

The street is shut to traffic first thing in the morning and local and visiting organisations set up their stalls and start to assemble. The Cowley Road area is home to a diverse, eclectic mix of families from all over the world. A harmonious community most of the time, families live and work and play alongside each other in schools, restaurants and places of worship. The Carnival happens every year in July and is a celebration of diversity and culture.

Local restaurants and visiting vendors set up their stalls, selling street food to the 30,000 who will join us for the day. Places in the parade are proudly taken by community and cultural groups and from mid morning they begin to assemble at their allocated postion. As well as folk in traditional costumes with a host of unfamiliar instruments, generations of family members lean against walls to give their support to their musicians and dancers. The Nepalese community are no exception.


The grills get hot and start to sizzle their barbed aromas across the road. Food from everywhere you can imagine.IMG_2058a

The beat increases with huge sound systems winding up their sounds outside bars, pubs and restaurants. The atmosphere is good-natured. Crowds start to gather on each side of the road and local bands and groups as well as excited visitees start to limber up and tune in their drums and tambors and trumpets, waiting to move off.



And then the parade begins its tortuous, tip toe shuffle up the road in a clangour and a clammer of bangs and clashes and sambas and salsas. Schools follow community groups who follow samba bands from home and abroad who follow street bands and local artists and businesses. Smiles on everyone’s faces.


The end is reached 500 metres or so further on – St Mary & St John’s Churchyard. Here the participants collapse in the shade. Frequently groups join together in a jam sessions that brings together a new fusion of culture and sound.


Back on the street food is consumed and crowds wander. Folk find places to chill – on a wall, in front of a stage and absorb the practised performances of dance and music or appreciate the impromptu expression of feeling and creativity.


Most things come to a halt at 6.00pm. People accept it, however reluctantly. The street cleaning vehicles start their work very punctually, sweeping through the still packed streets. Everyone knows that if there’s no fuss it will be the same next year.

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