I was lucky enough; right place, right time scenario, to be invited to sit in on a 'Mangrove' rehearsal last night.
For those who do not know Notting Hill, Mangrove is a steel band which is central to the Carnival and in many ways central to the community.
Initially the space was filled with individual musicians each practising their parts. this went on for some time but at some point the 'director' hit the floor then tapped a drum with a stick and the milling ant's nest of noise formed an orderly mass of pure joy.
A steel band in the street is pretty amazing, this steel band in an enclosed auditorium is something else. It blew me away; I heard church bells, strings, a horn section, a piano. All from a collection of oil drums. It was an aural wine tasting; full of hints and nuances that only come with maturity and loving care.
The director is a young Trinidadian from New York Named Andre White, he seems to hold the entire score for a very complicated piece of music in his head and was teaching the band bit by bit. It was a privilege to witness. At one point a small child entered the fray, was handed a pair of sticks and immediately started playing; watching her neighbour attentively she was learning by sight... the director looked on and smiled as the rehearsal carried on...Where else could that happen? Imagine the uproar if a child entered the rehearsal of the LSO and started joining in... Yet with Mangrove it was the most natural of events and I am sure that a lot of the musicians there had once, sometime past, walked in and picked up some sticks, got stuck in and stayed.
By the way, these are for the most part the young black kids that the majority of the white middle classes instinctively mistrust. What I saw was the kind of community activity that has long since vanished from most peoples lives.
Throughout the building, as the rehearsals went on, scores of people were putting the costumes together; in the dance studio vast skeletons of fantastic creatures awaited their plumage and in the gallery below this years musicians costumes were on show. And throughout the building enthusiasm shone.
Mangrove will be performing on the Friday evening before Carnival in All Saint's Road; an event that is a Carnival of it's own... Go and listen.