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Cee Bolakee

Never Not East London

Notting Hill Carnival has been a part of my life since I was very young. As a child I used to see my cousins I dance on the floats and I remember thinking ‘I wanna do that one day’.  I born listening and dancing to Soca music and by the time I was a teenager I started to go to Trinidad and take part in Carnival over there. It was different back then to how it is now.  

As the years passed the fashion became more minimal, I started to become confident in what I liked and I didn’t want to wear the same costumes that my friends wanted to wear. I’m naturally quite curvy and some outfits were not made for girls like me, so I started to adjust, re-create parts of my costumes. Something about carnival gave me the confidence to leave my friends and join bands on own because I would fall in love with a costume and would gravitate to it.   

There is something about carnival that makes you feel so confident and proud of how you look. It is like it's your wedding day. You plan for this day the whole year and plan your accessories, shoes and hair, you physically train hard for it. On the actual day of the carnival, it’s a feeling of unity, it's always special. I remember carnival morning my Trinidadian friends used to have a champagne breakfast and we would get ready together.  

When you step out, even though I am very shy, I just feel beautiful and everyone looks beautiful despite weight or shape. It is such a confidence boost. It is totally empowering as a woman and it is a day of freedom.  

I have been designing costumes now for five years. I am a bit of an introvert, but I made a vision board with my band name Vibrance, drawings of costumes. Everybody said to me that is something you can’t do in a year. You must go in as a trainee and support. BUT I did it.  

I was interviewed by one of NHC's original bands Cocoyea to gain a position to train and work myself up, however when he saw my designs he called me and said in his Trinidadian accent ‘Look gurl you are not co-designing you are collaborating.’ He gave me my first break and I have been so blessed to work with so many legends in the field Lynn and Carl Gabriel who makes sculptures that are internationally acclaimed, him and his wife treated me like their daughter, they taught me how to perfect my wire bending in the traditional manner.    

I feel like 2020 has been a time of rest. I really miss carnival, but people’s health and safety are paramount to me.  This year would have been my first year to have a truck on the road. I managed to secure funding and it is a shame that it didn’t go ahead, but next year will be even better because I will have more time to work on projects and I am building a team. For me the biggest thing about the band is not so much the costumes but the vibe and feel of my band. I feel like the energy that you have around you is important. Most of my band is made up of St Luicians Trinidadians, Dominicans and the vibe is electric, it has a real feel of family and complete unity. Check out Vibrancemas on Instagram.

Cee Bolakee is a Schools Marketing Executive at university of East London.