Belfast Telegraph

Mela adding spice to life in Belfast as ethnic festival keeps on growing

By Rebecca Black

Just four days ahead of Northern Ireland's biggest ethnic arts festival, the hard work has been done, the stage is being erected and now the weather is the only remaining worry.

As the countdown to Belfast Mela 2015 starts, the Belfast Telegraph will be taking an exclusive look behind the scenes each day until Sunday.

Up to 30,000 people are expected to visit Botanic Gardens to experience the sights, sounds and smells of Mela as scores of minority ethnic communities in the province showcase their traditions.

Belfast Mela organiser Krishan Tandon said the event had come a long way since its debut in 2007.

The accountancy graduate was then a 19-year-old student; a few years later he would go on to volunteer behind the scenes and now he is one of the leaders.

"In those days it was an Indian community event," he said.

"I remember a couple of thousand people, mainly from the Indian community, at the Great Lawn in Botanic Gardens.

"Since then it has grown both in size and audience. Last year some 25,000 attended."

The Indian community is the second biggest minority ethnic community in Northern Ireland, and through Mela has developed into helping newer settlers to assimilate by expressing their culture.

This has translated into a diverse programme at Mela 2015, including Bulgarian dance, Andalucian flamenco, African drumming, Afro-Caribbean funk and reggae, Polish music and a world food market.

Krishan described the event as a platform for communities to express their culture and give them visibility.

"Back in 2007 we could never have expected that Mela would develop into the largest minority ethnic event in Northern Ireland," he said.

One of the highlights of this year's event will be traditional Indian Dol drumming and work has been going on behind the scenes to train up a diverse group to perform at Mela.

Another highly anticipated feature will be Little Bollywood, an Indian-themed disco for young children.

Krishan said Mela hoped to attract an even bigger crowd this year, but admitted a lot depended on the weather.

Several thousand tickets have already been snapped up online for the discounted price of £4.

A ticket on the day is £5. Belfast Mela will run in Botanic Gardens, Belfast from noon-6pm this Sunday.

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