Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 28th August 2016 General view of the parade at the tenth Belfast Mela in Botanic Gardens, Belfast. With a blaze of colour and music the usually sedate Victorian gardens were transformed into an eclectic global village showcasing arts, culture and cuisine drawn from a wealth of nations, creating Northern IrelandÕs largest ever celebration of diversity.ÊÊ Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
A capacity crowd packed Belfast’s Botanic Gardens at the weekend to celebrate the tenth Belfast Mela in truly global style.

With a blaze of colour and music the usually sedate Victorian gardens were transformed into an eclectic global village showcasing arts, culture and cuisine drawn from a wealth of nations, creating Northern Ireland’s largest ever celebration of diversity.

As always, the city took its magnificent Mela to its heart and good-humoured, multi-generational audiences danced, sang, shopped and ate their way around the world in one great global afternoon.

This year, to mark the anniversary, the Indian classic tale, ‘The Phantom Queen’, performed under canvas, was a bonus programme addition, delighting sell out audiences on Saturday evening.

Reflecting the resounding success of the most ambitious Mela Festival ever, Nisha Tandon, founder and Executive Director of award-winning ethnic arts organisation, ArtsEkta, said, “Ten years ago ArtsEkta’s founding members had a vision of an exciting inclusive festival which would bring the world to Belfast and highlight our emerging diversity.  Our first Mela, right here in Botanic, attracted an audience of 3,000 people and we were thrilled.  What we could never have foreseen, as we took those early tentative steps, was just how much Mela would grow and develop.   Over our ten year history around a quarter of a million people have now enjoyed the unique Belfast Mela experience and, as this year’s event demonstrated, the appetite for the creative concept continues to grow.

“At one level the Belfast Mela is a fantastic day out, enjoyed by people of all ages and from all social and ethnic backgrounds, but there is serious intent behind the festivities.  The word ‘Mela’ is actually derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘meet’, which is highly appropriate as we have created both a cultural meeting place and a meeting of minds.

“Mela provides communities from across our region with important opportunities to engage with their own and others’ cultures, encouraging them to deepen and expand their own understanding and appreciation as they share their culture with others.  It all comes together on one great glorious day each Summer, but, behind the Mela magic, lies a great deal of preparation with huge commitment from diverse communities across Northern Ireland.  Their cultural expression combines with international headline artistes to create a festival that showcases the benefits and vibrancy of an increasingly diverse society.”

The Mela celebration got off to a colourful start on Sunday as an ebullient and cheerfully noisy musical carnival parade, wound its way around Botanic Gardens to arrive at the main stage, kicking off a day packed with world music, arts and dance.   Relaxed crowds gathered on a lawn edged by stands offering everything from henna hand painting to ethnic retail or took in creative inspiration which ranged from a fantasy forest and wellbeing zone to Little Bollywood, an exciting sensory experience specially designed for families with babies, toddlers and young children.

Global gastronomy sent the scents of luscious aromas around the park as international chefs combined their talents and culinary heritage with great local produce, as Belfast Mela paid 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 … it was world class cooking all the way.

Thanking all those whose hard work, enthusiasm and vision combined to stage the 2016 Belfast Mela, Nisha Tandon said, “Belfast Mela is a great demonstration of the wonderful things we can achieve when we combine our talents, resources and cultures.  Rather less obvious, but certainly no less important, is the combination of funding which allows this fantastic event to happen each year.  We receive funding and support from a range of influential organisations, companies and individuals and we are extremely grateful to each of them for supporting Mela with tangible assistance.”