Belfast Telegraph

Marvellous Mela is back: Cultural diversity is celebrated at popular Belfast festival

By Rebecca Black

One of Belfast's biggest arts festivals is more important this year than ever because of recent race tensions, Northern Ireland's only elected representative from a minority ethnic background has said.

Yesterday saw the launch of Belfast Mela 2014, Northern Ireland's largest annual celebration of cultural diversity.

Originally a festival centred around the Indian culture, Mela – which means 'to meet' – has branched out to showcase artists and culture from scores of minority communities.

The Belfast Telegraph is a media partner of the event, which is now in its eighth year.

Belfast Mela 2014 will open with a spectacular Into The Wilderness-themed procession transporting audiences through an exotic safari wonderland as it weaves its way around Botanic Gardens, including a Chinese dragon, Bollywood dancers and 100s of community performers.

Music on the stages will range from Bhangra and Brazilian jazz to Bulgarian and Ulster-Scots.

Nisha Tandon, director of ArtsEkta and founder of Mela, said organisers were proud of this year's programme.

"We are delighted to be presenting a superb programme which features performances by some enormously creative international artists alongside contributions from culturally diverse communities from across Northern Ireland," she said.

The event comes after an increase in racist attacks hit the headlines.

Alliance MLA Anna Lo said this year's Mela was more important than ever given that background.

"This is the eighth year of the Mela, a truly inclusive event, great for families from all walks of life that live in Northern Ireland," she said. "It is a great occasion for people to share and engage through culture and food.

The Belfast Telegraph will be running a series of articles in the run-up to Mela exploring the outreach work as part of the event.

Belfast Mela will take place at Botanic Gardens, Belfast, on Sunday, August 24, from noon to 6pm.

Tickets are priced at £5 per adults, £4 for concessions, with family tickets also available for £15.

Tempting to ears and taste buds

The eighth Belfast Mela will take place at Botanic Gardens on Sunday, August 24 from noon-6pm. Here are some of the highlights:

Opening procession

Led by Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon, this carnival like parade will draw its inspiration from the Into The Wilderness theme, transporting audiences into an exotic safari wonderland as it weaves its way through Botanic Gardens.

Malkit Singh

Hailed as the "King of Bhangra", this Punjabi icon has performed at such high profile venues as The Royal Albert Hall, O2 Arena and the Rockefeller Center. Singh is the first Punjabi singer to be honoured with an MBE and is most famous for the songs Chal Hun and Jind Mahi– both from the soundtrack to the popular 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham.

Rafaqat Ali Khan and the Bollywood Brass Band

Made up of four funky drummers and six hot horns, this outfit play massive hits from the latest Indian films driven by the huge beat of the Dhol drum. Pakistani singer Rafaqat Ali Khan plays Qawwali classics and songs from Indian and Pakistani film soundtracks from the golden age of Bollywood and beyond.

World Food Market

A feast for the mouth accompanies the feasts for the eyes and ears with the World Food Market returning to Belfast Mela, taking visitors on a food journey not only to India but across the world. Some of the highlights will include hot exotic curries, Polish sausages, Chinese noodles, Spanish paella and Japanese Sushi.

Global Souk

A fantastic chance to experience an array of world cultures from clothes to spices and arts. There will be a stunning and colourful collection of dresses and saris featuring cutting edge Asian fashions on sale at the ArtsEkta ethnic bazaar. There will also be a craft village with hand made items from local, national and international artists and a chance to learn about Mela's outreach programme which runs all year round. Kids and adults will love the facepainting and henna art stations located around the gardens.

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