Words and photographs by Lisa Burns
|Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry reading.
A COLOURFUL EXPLOSION OF SOUTH ASIAN CULTURE descended on Manchester last weekend in the form of the long-running Manchester Mega Mela Festival. Held on the 6th– 7th July at Platt Fields Park, this free annual event proved to be a success yet again. The festival drew in thousands of people from all over the country to enjoy two days of glorious sunshine, top-notch Asian entertainment; music, dance, food and culture.
The Mega Mela, running since 1989, has long been an opportunity for Manchester residents to sample the sights, tastes and sounds of various South Asian countries in a fun, family environment. This year’s event boasted a Main Stage hosting various entertaining acts streaming live to the BBC Asian Network. Visitors could also lose themselves amidst a bazaar of market stalls selling clothes, jewellery and Asian cuisine (cooked before the paying customer’s very eyes!). Children (and the young at heart) could also enjoy themselves at the funfair which ran alongside the Main Stage.
Alongside all of this, Manchester Metropolitan University set up camp in the Arts and Crafts marquee in their ‘Arabian Nights’ themed tent. Staff were on hand to read stories to children while poetry readings were given to promote the Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry competition. MMU’s presence at the Mela existed to highlight the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, a community literature project which takes place every two years. The project features high-profile authors, such as Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson, at regional events and in classrooms throughout Manchester. MMU were also highlighting their Routes Into Languages programme, an initiative that facilitates the teaching and learning of lesser- taught languages in schools in the North West.
Families, teenagers, couples, students – in fact, people from all walks of life, were to be found at the two-day event. Many were attending for the first time, while others made a habit of returning every year to enjoy the vibrant party atmosphere. One such repeat festival-goer was Ali from Wigan, who enthused, “I’ve been to this event before – I always really enjoy it. It’s got a great atmosphere and we always have beautiful weather and beautiful people!”
As well as being an excuse for a great party, the Mela has a more serious purpose. It was established as a means to promote social cohesion and inter-faith harmony in a city that is increasingly multi-faith and multicultural. Last year, around 27% of the people attending the Mela were from a non-Asian background.
Indeed, many of the visitors to the festival were experiencing South Asian culture for the first time at the Mela. Paula from Manchester said, “We came because we live locally, it was a beautiful day and we thought we’d try something new. It’s nice to see a different culture and listen to different music – I’d never normally listen to this sort of music. It’s nice to experience something different”.
Other attendees had travelled from far and wide to see what the Mela had to offer, such as Mohammed from Birmingham: “I’ve met a lot of new people here, the music’s great and I’d definitely come again”. Even some of the performers had travelled from afar – the Jaipur Kaura Brass Bandhad flown over from India to showcase their brand of Rajasthani folk music exclusively at two events – Glastonbury Festival and Manchester Mega Mela!
Dignitaries from all over the North of England were also in attendance, including former Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Afzal Khan. Taking to the stage to welcome the crowds to the event, he swept aside formalities, noting that, ‘a Mela is no place for formal speeches’, encouraging crowds to join him in getting into the festival spirit!
All in all, this year’s Mela was bigger and better than ever before, and looks set to keep expanding. Manchester Mega Mela will return next year – and it’s sure to be a success as ever! Don’t miss it!
Lisa Burns studies History and English at MMU. When she’s not got her nose in a book, she loves having adventures in the great outdoors! Follow her on Twitter: @LittleRobin09