7 Of The Best Soundsystems & Mas Bands To Seek Out At Notting Hill Carnival

From classics like Genesis Mas to DisYa’s surprising lineup.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 26: Samba performers in colourful costumes dance to the rhythms of t...
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After two long years, Notting Hill Carnival is back. Having been cancelled due to lockdown and forced online, the annual street festival is making a welcome return, as is tradition, on the August Bank Holiday weekend. Revellers can expect all the delicious food, amazing costumes, brilliant dancing and, of course, excellent music we have all missed in recent years.

While the music is undoubtedly a huge draw – and we will get into that shortly – understanding Carnival’s rich and complex history is key. The three-day festival is now the world’s second largest Carnival, second only to Rio de Janeiro’s event in Brazil.

A celebration of Caribbean culture, it dates back to the 1960s, and even further back in the Caribbean. But the London event was originally created in response to the murder of Antiguan carpenter Kelso Cochrane in 1959. At the time, racial tensions ran high in the area and many felt the investigation into Cochrane’s murder was lacklustre. In a bid to unite the community, Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones started an indoor Carnival, then known as the Caribbean Carnival. Years later, local activist Rhaune Laslett built on the idea and created a children’s street fayre, which is widely regarded as the first outdoor Carnival. To this day, Carnival still has a children’s day, traditionally the Sunday, while Monday’s celebrations are reserved strictly for adults.

Sunday at Carnival is also traditionally when the judging of the Mas (short for masquerade) bands occurs. Particularly prominent in Trinidad and Tobago, Mas dates back to the emancipation of slaves in the Caribbean, prior to which slaves would mock the “upper class” though elaborate costume and masks. Today, the elaborate costuming and parades are a celebration of London’s culture, diversity, and inclusivity.

The best bands and sound systems playing over the weekend keep the true message of Carnival at heart. With that in mind, here are the best soundsystems and Mas bands seek out this weekend.

Genesis Mas

Founded by Allyson Williams and her late husband Vernon “Fellows”, Genesis Mas is one of the oldest bands to grace the streets of Notting Hill. Now run by their daughter, Symone, she described 2022’s return as a “year-long process” and Notting Hill Carnival as a “major part of the UK’s Caribbean community.” Genesis Mas has strong links to Trinidad and is know for its elaborate costuming.

Flagz Mas

One for the younger fans of Notting Hill Carnival. Established in 2007, Flagz hosts a programme for young people in the run up to the weekend. During carnival, it provides a safe, fun, excellent introduction to the best sounds to come out of the Caribbean over the last year. One for lovers of Soca, you can either join in playing Mas or chose to travel with the float in your official Flagz t-shirt.

Rampage SoundSystem

Rampage has been a favourite of many since the early ‘90s, my dad included. Billed as Noting Hill’s largest static soundsystem, Rampage, on Coleville Terrac plays the best in dub and dancehall, and has been known to have special guests who always show up and show out, think Ms Dynamite and Lethal Bizzle. Playing the Rampage sound is legendary and always worth stopping by - you never know who you might see.

Island Mas

One of, if not the only, Mas to participate in Jab Jab – a tradition taken from the Caribbean slaves where upon their emancipation they covered themselves in black paint. Island Mas is one for the early risers; those who want the full Carnival experience, from Jouvert to Jab Jab.

DisYa Jeneration SoundSystem

Organised by Linett Kamala, a Notting Hill Trustee, Kamala aka Thunderbird was the first-ever female DJ to play carnival at the age of 14. Inspired by Bob Marley’s “Redeption Song”, DisYa is the best for a mystery line-up. Despite resident DJ and MCs announced, DisYa always has a trick or two up its sleeve. Previous surprise performances have included Neneh Cherry and Mark Ronson. Find DisYa on Powis Terrace.

Aba Shanti I SoundSystem

Bringing the Rastafari vibes to Notting Hill, Aba Shati I is a renowned DJ who has been on the road since 1993. If you’re looking to wind down after spending time in the depths of Rampage, Aba’s – on the corner of East Row and Southern Row – is the sound to be at.

Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park stage

Finally coming home to Notting Hill, Wray and Nephew is making an appearance at the Pleasance Park Stage on Bosworth Road. Inspired by Jamaica, the stage will be home to range of artist and talent including Young T & Bugsey, and the iconic Baby Cham. Fans can expect dancehall, old skool tunes, and new skool talent.