London Mela: A celebration of Asian culture in London

It was London celebrating South Asia in all its pomp and splendour, when the 13th London Mela concluded last weekend at Gunnersbury Park in West London. When boundaries are becoming increasingly tight for other cultures, and debates are going on about immigration and crossing borders, London Mela once again witnessed the inclusiveness and the multicultural nature of Londoners.

For the first time in the history of the Mela, the event was ticketed for the cause of rebuilding Nepal. But it did not dampen the influx of the London Mela which attracted over 15,000 visitors to Gunnersbury Park for the duration of 7-8 hours in the afternoon. Supported by the Mayor of London, the London Mela was reinventing the typical mela outside South Asia, by providing a platform for emerging British artists and by bringing the traditional classical art forms of the region to the British audience.

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The London Mela showcased what South Asian culture was all about—its wide variety of food, its cultural brilliance and for the crowds–the richness in its music. The wide expanse of Gunnersbury Park provided the perfect venue for staging the mela. The weather gods also were kind as the clouds gave way to clear blue skies. And thus started an afternoon of fun, food, music and dancing!

There were two stages set up—one for the pure arts which comprised of classical dance performances from all parts of South Asia, the other bigger stage was the crowd puller where prominent artists performed the popular songs to the enjoyment of the crowd.

Produced by the councils of both Ealing and Hounslow in West London, the annual London Mela is believed to be the largest outdoor festival of South Asia. This year the primary sponsors of the Mela were Zee TV, supported by LycaMobile and Western Union and funded by Arts Council England. It is a perfect venue for the local artisans and merchants from all over Ealing, Hounslow and Southall to present their wares and shops, and it was more than evident from the array of shops that no one shied away from the opportunity.

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Food ranged from spicy samosas, Indian Chaats, Biriyani, Jilebi to Persian kebabs, Kulfi and chicken tikka. There were the traditional burgers and doughnuts too and some surprises such as the `waffle on a stick.’ The grounds livened up with happy volunteers giving away balloons and free gifts to kids and grown-ups.

It was heartening to find that in the Asian Contemporary Arts tent, there were many European artists well versed in Indian classical dances such as Kathak, performing in front of an appreciative audience. People were thrilled when the main artist called upon the crowd to paint her white flowing kurta in vibrant colours in accordance with their celebration of beauty in dance.

The highlight of this year’s performances in the main arena was the Mumbai based Malayalee singer Benny Dayal and his band Funktuation who has travelled all the way from across the world to take part in the Mela. He enthralled the crowd with some of his most popular Bollywood numbers such as `Bang Bang’ and `Badtameez Dil’.

Benny-Dayal

The audience had no dearth of entertainment with the stage adorned by the Pakistani singer and songwriter Imran Khan whose record breaking single `Amplifier’ is still one of top chartbusters here. He was followed by the much popular singer to the London Mela audience—American born Raghav who entertained all with his hit singles, “ So Much”, “Fire”, “Top of the World” and “Woohoo”. Other artists who performed on the day included the London based singer Arjun, singer-songwriter Mumzy Stranger, Veena Parashar, RK Square, Fourby Four Bhangra, the Shiamak London dance team and debutant Ramee. But nothing could equal the excitement of the audience when they witnessed the outdoor circus, Mobile Homme by Transe Express in collaboration with East London’s Dhol Academy.

For the first time in the history of the Mela, the event was ticketed for the cause of rebuilding Nepal.

The Nepal Earthquake rebuild appeal, for which money was raised this year had three charitable beneficiaries who had their physical presence in the mela. They were Oxfam, The Gurkha Welfare Trust and YUMI Nepal. The Nepal High Commission also made their presence felt in the Mela with officials and artists sponsored by the commission doing rounds of the Mela grounds. The artists performed the traditional classical dances and Naumati Baja. The Mela also provided a venue for the local charities to showcase their causes—with help meted out to young Asian girls for their education, a Pakistani charity working against grooming etc.

In addition to all these, there was a complete fun fair area which was very popular among kids and young adults. The fun filled family entertainment spectacle came to an end with a customary theatrical firework finale performed by DJ Noble. The audience surely went home happy eagerly anticipating next year’s Mela.

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