KING DAVID OLUWALE will lead 150 migrant masqueraders at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival in Chapeltown, Leeds, on 28th August 2017. Remember Oluwale is partnering with the Harrison Bundey Mama Dread troupe for this historic event. In this post, we provide some background.

THE CARIBBEAN CARNIVAL is the best expression of the classic function of carnival: to turn the world upside down. Leeds carnival’s founder, Arthur France MBE, has always linked this city’s carnival to emancipation. Freedom from slavery, freedom for the black diaspora to forge its own future, as full citizens of wherever they settle, with equal rights and social justice. (You can read more about this here.)

HARRISON BUNDEY MAMA DREAD MASQUERADERS (HBMD) have inserted this radical practice into the Leeds carnival for the last 20 years. They recognise that migration, and social justice for asylum seekers and refugees, is a key issue today. This year they successfully bid for financial support for their most ambitious contribution to carnival so far. Proclaiming “All Ah We Are Migrants”, they invited Remember Oluwale to work with them in building a Carnival King, and a troupe of 150 people representing migration, welcome and settlement. In another post we will show the costumes being made at the HBMD mas camp.

KING DAVID is a specially commissioned sculpture (by Leeds artist Alan Pergusey) based on the police photo of David Oluwale — but Alan has captured the smile that David’s friends in the 1950s say was his signature. (Smiling David was the title of Jeremy Sandford’s radio play about David’s life and death in Leeds, published in 1974.) In our next post we will show photos of the sculpture being made, and then painted by Jane Storr. In the photo above the sculpture is standing on a shoulder harness made by Hughbon Condor of High Esteem.  The figure will be performed by Simon Namsoo of HBMD at the carnival’s King and Queen Show at West Yorkshire Playhouse on 25th August. Then he will take to the road on carnival Monday (28th August).

KING DAVID expresses carnival’s way of changing the world. Instead of the abject David — destitute, brutalised and killed by two Leeds policemen in 1969 — we show the royal David, the man of dignity and immense courage, who repeatedly refused to be swept up by the ‘night soil men’, Inspector Kitching and Sergeant Ellerker. We remember the man called Yankee by his friends, sporting his love of the culture of the USA. For those who know the Old Testament, our King David Oluwale recalls the giant killer, and he spurs conscience: why did supposedly Christian Leeds care so little for David?