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Mela brings the world to Belfast

2 Aug 2017
A new decade of multicultural magic was ushered in today as the programme for the 11th Belfast Mela was launched amidst a whirl of internationally-flavoured creativity in The MAC.

The preview performance set the scene for the global entertainment and atmosphere which will bring with it a cultural wealth of nations to Belfast’s Botanic Gardens on Sunday 27 August.

Delivering Northern Ireland’s largest annual celebration of diversity is the award-winning ethnic arts organisation, ArtsEkta. Looking forward to drawing attendances of 30,000+ people, the founder and Executive Director Nisha Tandon says the event has never been more important to the city and region it serves.

She said:

“The Belfast Mela – the name originates from the Sakskrit word meaning ‘to meet’ – is a celebration of our continuing journey to become a truly shared and cosmopolitan society where communities come together harmoniously and with mutual respect. With recent events at home, and across the world, the significance of this has never been more important. As a society we should continue to forge new friendships, increase understanding of others and find strength in our community spirit.

“Those are serious and important concepts, but diversity is of course a cause for celebration. Belfast Mela combines craic, camaraderie and culture from around the world with a wonderful spirit of exuberance and, over the last decade, Belfast has truly taken the event to its heart. This year we’re looking forward to a people’s party in the park which will show the world just how far the city has come.”

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nuala McAllister, reinforced Belfast City Council’s support for the annual event, saying:

“Belfast is an open, inclusive, and welcoming place to live and do business. Many communities have made the city their home and we embrace the individuality of each citizen. The Mela builds on this warm welcome by encouraging understanding, developing intercultural relationships and promoting inclusion within the city.”

Peter Osborne, Chair of the Community Relations Council, added:

“Few other Festivals, anywhere, are as potent in symbolising how far a society has come. Few other Festivals, if any, contribute more to a genuinely intercultural future in a region plagued in the past by intolerance of diversity. Few Festivals are as powerful and enriching. The Belfast Mela represents the forward-thinking future of 21st Century Northern Ireland.”

With audiences of c.30,000+ people concentrated on a single, buzzing afternoon in Botanic Gardens, Belfast Mela also reflects the changing nature of tourism. Terence Brannigan, Chair of Tourism NI, said:

“Events such as the Belfast Mela are firmly rooted within our tourism fabric, adding value to the positive perceptions and profile of our destination and have been recognised as having an important role in contributing to the economy.”

This year Belfast Mela celebrations will launch with an early ‘extra’ at The MAC, Belfast on Friday 25 August when acclaimed Sufi singer Salam Sabri will present an evening of Indian Qawwali music – a form of Sufi devotional music dating back over 700 years and still popular across the Indian Sub-Continent.

On the afternoon of Sunday 27 August Botanic Gardens will be the setting for the Belfast Mela festival of global identities, with an exotic, colourful – and joyously noisy - carnival parade launching the showcase of culture and cuisine from all four corners of the world.

The main Mela stage will feature a packed programme of music, dance, arts and performance entertaining easy-going crowds gathered on a lawn which will be encircled by marquees offering everything from henna hand painting and ethnic retail to aromatic and exotic food and drink and featuring acclaimed personality chef, the Urban Rajah, in The Mela taste Theatre.

Headline acts will include the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers bringing the huge reverberating beats of Japan to the park, while the famously energetic Dhol Foundation will keep the grounds and the crowds rocking with its mastery of the traditional Punjabi dhal drums.

The multi-talented musician, songwriter and saxophonist, founder and music director of the African Gospel Choir Dublin, Adeniyi Allen-Taylor, and his Afrobeat Orchestra will add some robust soul to the festival vibe. Los Dramaticos –a returning favourite of Mela crowds - will bring the sultry and stirring sound of South America to the stage and Irish harpist Amy McAllister, with her clear contemporary vocals will delight audiences with beguiling twists on Irish trad. Revving up the atmosphere will be the Booka Brass Band, billed as Ireland’s original urban brass band and known for their high octane performances.

The World Music & Dance Showcase will host a day-long programme of entertainment, including performances by the (Russian) Roskina Choir, the Chemsir Bulgarian folk dancers, the Philippine Unifited Support Organisation, Dhol Belfast, Magwere with its unique blend of African colour and European cool and the South Asian Dance Academy.
Creative inspiration for all ages will include Little Bollywood, an exciting sensory experience designed for families with babies, toddlers and young children, while young and old will want to explore the amazing Fantasy Forest with its arts and performance workshops, international street theatre and magical Mexican-inspired arts installation of fantastical creatures.

New to Mela this year will be the welcoming Polska Village which will immerse audiences with a fantastic line-up of Polish music, dance, food and traditional folk art and The Gathering Place, organised in association with Voluntary Arts Ireland, involving audiences in the creation of a sculptural installation based on dreams, journeys and identity.

The Rickshaw Wallah will be on hand to provide the ultimate selfie experience with a ride on a festival tuktuk imported from India (#belfast mela, #rickshawwallah), but when the going gets exhausting it’s time to connect with the calming influences of music in The Mela Beat Tent or head for the Relax & Rejuvenate zone, for Q-Gong, Meditation, Drum Circle … even some restorative Laughter Yoga!

For bookings and full details of the world class line up at Belfast Mela 2017 visit www.belfastmela.org.uk.
Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister launches the 2017 Belfast Mela Performers at the launch of the Belfast Mela