Belfast Telegraph

Mela marks decade of diversity in Belfast as it launches tenth dazzling year

Belfast is set to celebrate a decade of diversity as the tenth dazzling Mela descends on Botanic Gardens.

On Sunday August 28 the park will transformed into an exotic festival of global identities; a showcase of the culture and cuisine of a wealth of nations.  

To mark ten years of celebrating shared cultures, there will be an entertainment bonus this year, with the addition of two performances under the canvas of the Indian classic tale, ‘The Phantom Queen’ on Saturday August 27. 

A special ‘Voices Of Mela’ photographic and film exhibition will also be staged at The Ulster Museum capturing ten years of Mela moments, uncovering some of the stories of Northern Ireland’s ethnic communities, and exploring the significance of Mela within Northern Ireland’s cultural landscape.

Nisha Tandon, founder and Executive Director of pioneering ethnic arts organisation, said: “Ten years ago ArtsEkta’s founding members had a creative vision for staging the most inclusive festival that Northern Ireland had ever seen.  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 ten year history around a quarter of a million people have enjoyed the unique Belfast Mela experience. 

“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 Belfast Mela provides communities from across our region with valuable opportunities for cultural expression and to experiment creatively, deepening their own understanding and appreciation as well as sharing their culture with others. The end result is a festival that showcases the benefits and vibrancy of our increasingly diverse society: a Mela which both reflects and inspires our ever-changing city.”

The Lord Mayor of Belfast Brian Kingston said: “I congratulate the ArtsEkta on the outstanding contribution made by the organisation over the last ten years, encouraging mutual understanding, developing intercultural relationships and promoting inclusion within our community.  On behalf of all our citizens and the thousands of visitors who flock to Belfast Mela each year, from a myriad of cultures, I thank all those whose vision and creativity have given us our annual Belfast Mela.”

What to expect for the 2016 line-up

Getting audiences into Mela mood will be a unique curtain-raiser, staged in a traditional Rajasthani ‘big top’ marquee at Lower Botanic Playing Fields at 6.00pm and again at 7.30pm on Saturday August 27.

Devised by The Foundation for Indian performing Arts, ‘The Phantom Queen’ uses traditional Indian story-telling techniques, artistry and circus skills to present a chilling tale of good –v- evil inspired by the ruins of Bhangrah, reputedly the most haunted place in India. Tickets are free but capacity is limited, with seats available via online booking

'Carnival parade'

The main Mela celebration will get off to a colourful start with the arrival of its now traditional cheerfully noisy, musical carnival parade, winding its way around the Gardens to arrive at the main Mela stage.

A packed bill of music, dance, arts and performance will entertain the crowds gathered on a lawn edged by stands offering everything from henna hand painting to ethnic retail. 

Amongst the world music acts featured on the main stage will be Raghu Dixit, hailed as India’s biggest cultural and music export; the high energy Zulu Tradition; Balkan Alien Sound, blending gypsy, Klezmer and Balkan music and dance; Andalucian and Latin American music from Los Dramaticos; the Balkan-to-Brooklyn brass band blast of the Riot Jazz Band plus the home grown talents of folk band Connla and the South Asian Dance Academy.

The World Music & Dance Showcase will also feature the Roskina Choir providing a Russian choral tradition; Chemsir taking to the stage with Bulgarian dance and the Philippines United Support Organisation giving a taste of traditional Filipino village style performances in different areas of the Gardens. The Belfast-based band Magware will provide a unique blend of African colour and European cool, while Dhol Belfast, Ireland’s first professional dhol drumming band will beat out the mega rhythms of India.

'Little Bollywood'

Creative inspiration for all ages will include Little Bollywood, an exciting sensory experience designed for families with babies, toddlers and young children, and the magical Fantasy Forest experience.  Tucked away amidst the tropical planting in Botanic Gardens the Fantasy Forest will  feature international street theatre, music and dance, Fantastical Creatures all the way from Mexico plus nature-inspired workshops from Eastern Europe, India, China, Japan, India and Russia. 

The zone will even have its own story-telling tree where families can gather to hear traditional stories from around the world.

Global gastronomy will waft luscious aromas around the park as international chefs combine their talents and culinary heritage with great local produce, as Belfast

Mela pays tribute to Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016. From ‘A Night in Rajasthan’ tandoori barbeque experience and the World Food Market to Live Cookery Theatre to the specially-curated Artisan Market showcasing what’s fresh and new from dynamic local food producers.

Hasan Mutlu, General Manager for Turkish Airlines Ireland Principal Sponsor for Belfast Mela 2016, said: “We are tremendously excited by our ongoing partnership with Belfast Mela and are looking forward to supporting another fantastic day where Belfast takes the world to its heart; it’s a lively and appropriate way for us to thank and engage with our customers, north and south, and to celebrate world culture together.

“At Turkish Airlines we talk of the positive role travel plays in cultivating our curiosity and finding delight in our differences: Belfast Mela echoes those sentiments and we welcome people to take up our invitation, ‘It’s time to widen your world.’

For full details on the event visit Belfast Mela

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