‘Of course I have the energy to do it’: Hackney carnival pioneer, 83, still going strong

PUBLISHED: 16:02 05 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:24 05 September 2016

A dancer in the Beeraahaar Sweet Combination parade

A dancer in the Beeraahaar Sweet Combination parade


Spectacular costumes, breathtaking dancing, irresistible music. Emma Bartholomew looks back at Hackney’s carnival history.

Dancers in the Beeraahaar Sweet Combination paradeDancers in the Beeraahaar Sweet Combination parade

Hackney carnival pioneers David Grant and Christina Oree, 83 and 79, are still going strong.

They have been busy designing and making elaborately themed costumes to parade in this weekend’s street celebrations.

The pair, from Cranwich Road, Stamford Hill, set up Beeraahaar Sweet Combination band in 1993 with 14 girls and one boy who wanted to get involved with the art of carnival.

This year, they have 150 dancers in the parade.

A dancer in the Beeraahaar Sweet Combination paradeA dancer in the Beeraahaar Sweet Combination parade

The idea was to develop a spirit of unity between all different ages, cultures and backgrounds, and the youngsters chose the name “sweet combination” to signify the different nationalities in their band.

Christina, or Tina, explains the word means “melodious” in Hindi.

She was Notting Hill carnival queen in 1979, and remembers her first carnival in Hackney 23 years ago.

“We had the road to ourselves,” she said. “There was no fighting or riots. Everyone enjoyed themselves and had a good time.

'Sky at night' costume made by Perpetual Beauty for the Notting Hill carnival. (Photo: Hackney Museum)'Sky at night' costume made by Perpetual Beauty for the Notting Hill carnival. (Photo: Hackney Museum)

“Carnival to me is the food of love. I love getting my contingency all dressed up in a costume portraying a theme.”

Their first was “Guyana Gold”, designed by David to symbolise the gold mines of his home country, and Tina acted as machinist producing the costumes inspired by El Dorado and the mountains.

David, who came over to England aged 29 when he was “still speedy”, designs the costumes, and is already working on next year’s. “Of course I have the energy to do it,” he said.

“My mum passed away when she was 105. My granddad was 110. My great aunt was 115.

The Hackney Carnival in 1988, taken by an unknown photographer. (Photo: Hackney Museum)The Hackney Carnival in 1988, taken by an unknown photographer. (Photo: Hackney Museum)

“The way to live is the way you carry yourself. If you want to live in a bad way, you will go fast.

“I grew up with dignity and pride and today I am doing my own thing.”

Carnival for him is “everything”.

“You can show people what you do, and we teach a lot of youths outside how to make the clothes and decorate their costumes and hats.

The Hackney Carnival in 1988, taken by an unknown photographer. (Photo: Hackney Museum)The Hackney Carnival in 1988, taken by an unknown photographer. (Photo: Hackney Museum)

“I know how the costumes are going to be moved – if you are the queen, how to move the costumes around for the judges and spectators to appreciate what you have done, and to see the creativity you have in you.

“Beeraahaar will never die.”

Carnival’s roots in Hackney stretch back to the 1970s, however, with its first believed to have been the 1973 Street Carnival Theatre in De Beauvoir organised by African and Caribbean community centre Centerprise.

Perpetual Beauty Carnival Association also dated back to the ’70s, and was started by three families to make “mas” – carnival costumes – in their own backyards.

They went on to open the first ever Carnival College, offering GNVQs in art and design, with some of their amazing costumes winning at Notting Hill in 1988 until they went bankrupt at the turn of the century.

Rebecca Odell from Hackney Museum said: “We know people were doing carnival around Stoke Newington in the early 70s but we are struggling to get information dating back to that time.

“Bands in Hackney were wining prizes early on at Notting Hill but we just don’t have access to that information as it’s not recorded, so we would love to hear memories of carnival in the 70s or 80s.”

The Pantonic Steel Orchestra, meanwhile, was founded in 1988 as a community band, and many of the children of its original founders now play in the group, which has been renamed The Next Generation.

And latterly, more than 15 carnival groups merged to form Hackney One Carnival in 2008 to celebrate the launch of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the four-year run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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