Northern Ireland’s largest annual celebration of cultural diversity was officially launched in a wave of excitement, exotic aromas, dance, art and music on board SS Nomadic in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter today.
Sponsors, performers, friends and supporters gathered for a colourful curtain raiser which gave an early glimpse of what will be happening when Mela fever descends on Botanic Gardens on Sunday 24th August.
For the eighth year in succession, Belfast Mela will transform the city park into a unique global get-together, filled with music, dance, food, fashion, cuisine and crafts. The dazzling day of diversity is expected to attract more than 25,000 people to celebrate the great big beautiful world together, making this a highpoint of Northern Ireland’s social and cultural calendar as well as a significant tourist attraction.
Unveiling the 2014 programme, Nisha Tandon, Director of ArtsEkta, the organisation behind Belfast Mela, said, ‘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 right across Northern Ireland. The resulting eclectic mix will see Botanic Gardens bursting into life with an amazing mix of sights, smells, sounds and sensations, revealing a wonderfully vibrant wealth and variety of culture in its many forms.”
Hosted by media partner UTV’s Julian Simmons and U105’s Carolyn Stewart, the Belfast Mela 2014 programme 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. The community parade will be bigger than ever before, featuring specially commissioned carnival creations including a spectacular processional sculpture plus Chinese Dragon and Bollywood dancers, Indian dhol drums and brass music interspersed with 100s of community performers. Within the gardens, stages will buzz with performances ranging from Bhangra to Brazilian jazz; from Cuban-African fusion to Celtic; from Bulgarian to Ulster Scots …and that’s just for starters! Féile An Droichead will provide high octane entertainment in the Irish tradition, while the Global Souk will reveal a world of craft and chic shopping and the World Food Market will offer a taste of global cuisines. The elegantly secluded Maharaja Tent will house intimate performance of classical Indian music and dance while, new for 2014, will be a specially created Fantasy Forest filled with nature-inspired workshops delivered by visual artists, craftspeople, dancers, musicians and story-tellers.
Nisha says, “Visitors to Belfast Mela can expect to step into a whole new world, teaming with entertainment and buzzing with atmosphere and with a programme that’s so packed and varied it will provide enjoyment and stimulation for everyone for the entire day as well as providing a unique cultural learning experience in the spirit of shared celebration.”
Around the world Mela festivals (‘Mela’ is borrowed from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘to meet’) are growing in popularity and are becoming important showcases for ethnic groups to express their identities and celebrate their cultural roots. ArtsEkta Chairman, Dr M Satish Kumar, says, “We can all be proud that Belfast is so firmly at the forefront of this movement with an event which continues to grow in stature, reputation and scale. However, while we have increased popularity and profile over the years, we have always remained true to our original vision of providing a platform for minority ethnic groups living here to express their identities and showcase and share their cultures with pride. That ethos allows us to make an important contribution to the life of our city and the pride which our increasingly diverse population can take in their origins. Belfast Mela now a key tourism as well as a cultural highlight of the city’s Summer events calendar, allows us also to make an important contribution to the tourism economy.
“None of this would be possible without much hard work and commitment from a vast number of groups and individuals and we take immense pleasure in thanking them for their creative input. We must also thank those whose financial and ‘in-kind’ support is ‘the wind beneath our wings’. Funding from public sector organisations has been enhanced with commercial support from our partner, Turkish Airlines, and from a number of far-sighted local businesses and we are extremely grateful for their support and encouragement.”
Looking forward to the 2014 event which enjoys support from Belfast City Council, Councillor Nichola Mallon, Lord Mayor of Belfast, said, “This festival is an important celebration of the diversity within our city. It encourages mutual understanding and appreciation of Belfast’s rich cultural tapestry and helps promote inclusion. There is so much to celebrate about the best of Belfast: Belfast Mela helps us to do just that and I can’t wait to be part of it!”
Describing the event which attracts funding from OFMDFM, as ‘the most colourful and cosmopolitan of our Summer festivals’, Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell MLA and Jennifer McCann MLA applauded ArtsEkta’s vision of ‘an inclusive society unified through art, creativity and respect’ and commended the Belfast Mela for showing Belfast ‘at its brightest best and most welcoming.’
In a message of support, Minister of Culture, Arts & Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, said, “I strongly support the valuable work that ArtsEkta undertakes in bringing intercultural arts to communities who have had little opportunity to explore and experience the arts of other cultures. Ethnic and community arts play a positive role at a local level across all of our communities and are pivotal to cultural development here in the North of Ireland.
“This approach resonates with the Arts Council’s Intercultural Arts Strategy. At the heart of this strategy there is the genuine desire to use the arts to engage with others who live around us; to encourage people to form positive contacts, across and within communities that are culturally diverse.” ArtsEkta attracts continued DCAL support via core funding from the Arts Council and Community Festival Fund.
Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board which supports the Belfast Mela, paid tribute to the year-on-year growth enjoyed by the event and to its developing power to attract visitors to Belfast. He said, “This fantastic celebration of world cultures and creativity through its eclectic programme of dance, music, food and crafts from over 30 nations around the globe, is an iconic highlight inNorthern Ireland’s festival calendar. Visitors will be treated to vibrant and creative cultural experiences and communities will be brought together to enjoy a colourful, fun-filled day out for all the family.”
The event will run in Botanic Gardens, Belfast from 12noon – 6pm on Sunday 24th August 2014. On the day tickets are £5 for Adults, £4 for Concessions or £15 for Families. Canny festival-goers can steal a march on the queues and secure discounts by booking online at www.belfastmela.com, with tickets priced at £4 for Adults, £3 for Concessions and £12 for Families.