Elders honoured in vital link to event’s roots

Musician and foodie Levi Roots will host this year’s Elders’ Breakfast – which as always kicks off the Carnival day.

Levi took over as Carnival chair in 2021, and will make an appearance on the main stage outside the St Paul’s Learning Centre on Grosvenor Road.

But before Carnival starts, he will be leading the Elders Breakfast – a tradition that connects the event back to its roots.

Invited guests from the St Paul’s community will gather in the Malcolm X Community Centre to mark the event’s 55th birthday this year.

Carnival Vice Chair Carole Johnson said it was important to honour the people who were around when the Carnival was first set up, and remember how and why it happened.

This year’s Carnival will closely coincide with two key anniversaries in the Caribbean community’s life in Bristol, which are reflected in the 2023 theme Learning from Legends.

June 22nd marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the ship HMT Empire Windrush in 1948, bringing families from the Caribbean to start new lives.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of Bristol bus boycott – organised by four young Caribbean men after black people were banned from working on the buses. 

Carole said: “We are standing on the shoulders of legendary figures from the past – if they had not done what they did, we would not have Carnival today.

“One of those men, the late Roy Hackett, said the reason they started the Carnival was after the hostility shown to them by the bus companies, they wanted to show people they were peaceful and friendly.

“They wanted to connect with other Bristolians, and felt the easiest way was to share their food and music and laughter, and bring a little sunshine to Britain’s cold wet streets.”

That first St Paul’s Festival, as it was known, was attended by just 100 people – this year they expect well over 100,000.

The Elders’ Breakfast even continued during the pandemic, when there was no street carnival for three years – volunteers delivered a Jamaican breakfast the elders in their homes, to keep the connection alive.

Levi Roots has a long connection with Bristol’s African Caribbean community and was a carnival goer in the 1970s, when he was a “soundman” who came to the city to play reggae music, and sell his now famous Reggae Reggae Sauce.

He shot to prominence  in 2007 when the sauce was featured on the BBC programme Dragon’s Den. But for years before that he was known to traders along Stapleton Road, where he visited shops persuading them to stock his sauce, before it became well known.

A spokesperson for the carnival told the Voice: “For him it was fitting to come back and give back something to the community where it all started for him. He talks fondly of those days trying to sell his sauce.”

You can read more about Windrush 75 here: https://www.windrush75.org/