Black British cultures have been created from diverse and contradictory elements, apprehended through discontinuous histories. The outcomes of the resulting cultural and political interactions re-construct and re-work tradition, as they pursue their particular utopias. The effects of these relationships and the penetration of these black cultural retentions into the dominant western cultures mean that it is almost impossible to theorise black culture as such, especially where it is linked inextricably to the social relations of Britain, without being allowed to develop a new perspective on British culture as a whole.

We believe that the notion of a shared national identity depends on the cultural meanings which bind each member of that society individually into a larger national narrative. It follows then, that any national heritage should be a powerful source and reflection of such meanings. Thus, it is understandable that those who cannot see themselves reflected in its mirror, cannot believe themselves to be properly ‘belonging’ to it.

We believe that Britain needs to re-imagine itself and its society, recognising both its diversity and the value that its existing collective resources bring to the ‘nation’ table. The British population is made up of multiple identities and the key to supporting a successful cultural diversity lies in its ability to commandeer these identities flexibly and harmoniously.

With this in mind, it is our belief that aesthetics are much more than the creative and imaginative expression of a society, aesthetics are able to illuminate the human condition and act as unifying and regenerative factors in the development of communities.

Carnival Messiah is about establishing such structures. Structures that can replace the divisions in nations, power, prosperity and ethnicity. Structures which even today remain based upon notions of essentialist ethnic and class divisions.

Carnival Messiah is about the invention of new structures that do not confine but instead enable, structures that nurture, structures that address and replace the rupture and discontinuity that remains the trade mark of colonialism, post or otherwise...

C.L.R. James observed in conversation with Stuart Hall in 1984 that

“the black Briton’s gaze is directed not only at the self or the ‘black community’, but into British society and the myths of identity at its heart…… Britons retain a dual or multiple heritage, a sense of having a history elsewhere, that can be a creative force – what Rushdie has termed the ‘stereoscopic vision’ of being both insider and outsider” 

Stuart Hall reads into C.L.R. James’s comments further as he observes: “The impulse of many such writers is to link creatively what they know, bringing newness into the world through drawing on and combining several heritages.  In the process they experience their particularity not as a problem, but as a strength” 

Carnival Messiah is such a particularity. Carnival Messiah firmly belongs to the Leeds community out of which it has grown. The community chorus is at the very heart of the production and is the key to its ongoing legacy. Over 200 volunteers, community participants, would-be performers, professional actors, creatives, technicians and administrators of all ages and cultural backgrounds will train, rehearse, manage, prepare and perform for and during the 3 months leading up to the run of professional performances. The community participants will learn specific performance skills or enhance skills they have already. Everyone will learn more about their own cultures, about cultural diversity and about their own personal capabilities, attitudes and cognitions.

© Geraldine Connor (2006)

This essay was taken from the Harewood Community, Education and Outreach Programme, an initiative of David Lascelles and The Harewood House Trust, in collaboration with Geraldine Connor. It was created for the Harewood Festival 2007  in commemoration of the bicentennial of the abolition of slavery parliamentary act 1807.