Come Hungry to the Edinburgh Mela
As August draws to a close, all of Edinburgh heads down to Leith Links for a weekend-long celebration of diversity and culture. The Mela brings together music, dance and the wider arts from around the world, in a celebration that has a purpose: promoting understanding between people and fostering community coherence. We caught up with Kirstin from the Mela to find out what is going to make this year so special.
Tell us a bit about this year's Mela.
Well this year is a very different Mela from usual. We’ve got a brand new director, Chris Purnell, who’s just come up from three years running the London Mela.He likes to say he’s gone from the biggest Mela in the country to the best, which is very sweet of him. And what we’ve got this year thanks to the Scottish Government Expo Fund is that we’ve been able to create a new stage and give the Mela a whole new focus this year.
And what’s going to be on the new stage?
We’re calling it the World Dance Feste and it’s a dedicated platform for all forms of dance. We’ve got everything from traditional Indian kathak dance to Chinese dance to a lot of really contemporary stuff: a lot of breakdance and parkour and hip-hop dance. And we’ve also been able to commission new work by Scottish artists, which is great, as well as bringing really outstanding international artists here. For example, one of those commissions is a piece called 9-2-5, by the Scottish parkour company Bright Night International. They’ve brought a lot of hip-hop dance into their work so it’s going to be a breathtaking new piece involving a lot of parkour and parkour-style moves but brought into a new stage-based piece of entertainment, so that’s really exciting.
Are there any other surprises?
We’ve also got a new tent this year called the Mela Mix Tent, which is a little bit funkier, a little bit more urban. We’ve got some urban DJs involved. Joseph Malik, who is very famous in and around Edinburgh as a music producer and DJ is going to do a live DJ set with trumpeters, a vocalist and an MC, so there will be a real party vibe in there. The other thing that’s brand new is that we’re opening on the Friday night this year. The Mela is traditionally only on Saturday and Sunday, but this year we’re doing a huge free show on the 31st of August at 8.30pm called Rama and Sita. It’s going to be a pyrotechnic spectacular, again with lots of dance. We wanted to make a really big statement this year to re-introduce the Mela to everybody and kind of get people’s attention with a bang, so that’s what we’re doing.
As you said, Chris Purnell has taken over as Director this year. What do you think the most obvious sign of this will be for the regular Mela-goer?
I think there’s an increased focus on performance this year. I mean obviously the Mela has traditionally only had two stages so having a new stage is going to be something really obvious. Chris comes from a performance and art background so there’s a lot of that coming to the Mela this year.
The Mela is famous for its music programme – can you tell us what we can expect?
We’re very very famous for putting on an amazing world music programme and this year is no exception to that. We have an amazing young classical sarod maestro called Soumik Datta. What he does – he’s played with Beyonce and Bill Bailey the comedian. There’s a video of him online doing Dueling Banjos Indian-style We’re really really excited to have him on the stage. And the programme is going from as beautiful and classical as that all the way over to something like Bhangra acts from the Stranger Family who are the UK’s top bhangra collective to Turkish sufi music to dhol drumming to traditional Chinese folk songs to African storytelling. It’s going to be an incredibly diverse year.
From this amazing programme, what are you looking forward to the most?
Personally I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon in the Mela Mix Tent the most. I think that line-up is looking phenomenal. Joseph Malik, as mentioned, who I’ve been a fan of for a long time, and there’s Royal Dhol Force who combine traditional dhol drumming with bagpipes and saxophones, and they’re all really young Scottish guys. And another act who is going to be absolutely amazing is a group called Red Baraat who are a nine-piece dhol-funk-brass-samba-drum group from Brooklyn, and they’ve come over as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme, and they are the final headline act. They’re closing the Mela on Sunday night and you can see some YouTube videos of them. The way they are capable of creating a party atmosphere looks amazing so I’m really looking forward to that.
What’s your top tip for someone visiting the Mela for the first time?
I would tell them to come hungry. We’ve got amazing food stalls – the Mela’s as famous for its food as its performance. We’ve got the Global Food Village which is full of tastes and smells from all over the world. I’d also say bring the kids. We’ve just created a dedicated Mela Kidzone this year and what we’re going to be doing is building the Mela Storytelling Ship with a friendly crew of Vikings who are going to tell stories. We’re also doing a project called Around the World in Eighty Minutes which takes kids to north, south, east and west and they discover through performance and workshops the traditions of each region of the world they’re going to.
How much does it all cost?
It’s all for £3: that gets you into everything for the whole day. And Rama and Sita on Friday night is absolutely free.
The Edinburgh Mela will run from the 31st of August to the 2nd of September. Buy your day passes for the Saturday and Sunday here.