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Belfast Mela to celebrate an unforgettable decade of cultural diversity

By Allan Preston

Belfast Mela has promised its most ambitious programme yet to celebrate a decade of diversity in Northern Ireland.

As Northern Ireland's largest celebration of world cultures, Mela has become famous for filling Botanic Gardens with the best in music, dance and cuisine from a wealth of nations.

To mark the festival's 10th year, an entertainment bonus will see two performances under canvas of the Indian classic tale, The Phantom Queen, on Saturday, August 27.

The spectacle uses traditional Indian storytelling techniques, artistry and circus skills to present a chilling tale of good versus evil inspired by the ruins of Bhangrah, reputedly the most haunted place in India.

A film and photo exhibition, Voices of Mela, capturing 10 years of festival moments, will also be on display at the Ulster Museum and will feature the stories of Northern Ireland's ethnic communities.

Nisha Tandon, founder and executive director of ArtsEkta who run Mela, reflected on a decade of celebrating diversity.

"A decade ago ArtsEkta's founding members had a creative vision for staging the most inclusive festival that Northern Ireland had ever seen," said Nisha.

"We were delighted back then to attract an audience of 3,000 people, but that was only the beginning. Northern Ireland has truly taken Mela to its heart and in our 10-year history around a quarter of a million people have enjoyed the unique Belfast Mela experience."

She added: "The concept of Mela has never been so relevant or important to society and, as an organisation, we are proud to have created this creative cultural meeting … the name 'Mela' is actually derived from the Sanskrit word for 'meet'." The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston, also paid tribute to the work of Mela over the last decade.

He said: "I congratulate ArtsEkta on the outstanding contribution made by the organisation over the last 10 years, encouraging mutual understanding, developing inter-cultural relationships and promoting inclusion within our community."

The main Mela celebration will begin on Sunday, August 28, with the arrival of the colourful and noisy musical carnival parade winding its way around the gardens to arrive at the Mela stage. World music acts featuring on the main stage include internationally acclaimed Indian singer-songwriter Raghu Dixit as well as the home-grown talents of folk band Connla and the South Asian Dance Academy.

Adding to the eclectic mix on offer at the world music and dance showcase will be the Roskina Choir providing a Russian choral tradition.

Ticket information for the event and the full festival line-up is now available at www.belfastmela.org.uk.

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