There will be more than a taste of the exotic in store this summer as Northern Ireland’s biggest celebration of cultural diversity prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in colourfully eclectic style.

Belfast Mela, launched in 2007 by the pioneering ArtsEkta ethnic arts organisation, will bring a wonderful world of entertainment to the Belfast Botanic Gardens over August Bank Holiday weekend, as it celebrates ten fabulous years with the addition of an extra night of music, dance and theatre in a special festival Big Top on the evening of Saturday August 27.

Over 25,000 visitors are expected to flock to Botanic Gardens on Sunday August 28 for the main Mela Festival event; Northern Ireland’s favourite carnival of international cultures, featuring music, dance, arts and performance from around the world.

The good news is we’ve got 10 family passes to give away to Sunday’s event. All the details you need are directly below…

Belfast Mela

This year global cuisine will be wafting luscious aromas around the park as Belfast Mela pays tribute to Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016. International chefs will combine their talents and culinary heritage with great local produce to provide fabulous dishes to sample and enjoy. From A Night In Rajasthan tandoori barbeque experience and the World Food Market to Live Cookery Theatre and the specially-curated Artisan Market showcasing what’s fresh and new from dynamic local food producers …. cooking doesn’t get much better than this!

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.

Reflecting on a decade of celebrating diversity, 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.”

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Belfast Mela is one of the most colourful events in the city.

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 6pm and again at 7.30pm on Saturday August 28. 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.  

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.

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.

Press Eye Ltd Thursday 22nd June 2016 Photographer Darren Kidd This week organisers gave festival-goers a tantalising early taste of the Mela menu as they launched a new website and a queue-jumping online booking facility. Helping to launch online booking and the all-new www.belfastmela.org.uk site are this yearÕs Mela Festival hosts Marc Mallet, UTV and Carolyn Stewart, U105 with Siu Lamm Lau who will be part of the Martial arts group who will be performing at this yearÕs event and Kalyani Yadav (left) and Kanlini Chillara part of the creative team who will be delivering workshops and performances during the Mela. This yearÕs Mela will take place with an extra night of music, dance and theatre in a special festival ÔBig TopÕ on the evening of Saturday 27th August 6pm-9pm with the main Mela Festival on Sunday 28th August 12 noon-6pm in Botanic Gardens, Belfast.

Siu Lamm Lau who will be part of the Martial arts group who will be performing at this year’s event with Kalyani Yadav (left) and Kanlini Chillara, part of the creative team who will be delivering workshops and performances during the Mela.

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 …. cooking doesn’t get much better than this!

Looking forward to two days of multi-cultured entertainment played out for a capacity audience, Nisha Tandon paid tribute to the many companies and organisations which have invested financially in Belfast Mela.  She said, “Sponsors and funders are the wind beneath our creative wings and we are extremely grateful to all those far-sighted individuals and organisations who have invested in the Belfast Mela, for nothing could be achieved without their tangible support.”

 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.”

 For full details on the world class line up at Belfast Mela 2016 go to www.belfastmela.org.uk

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