2012 Edinburgh Mela will bring post-Fringe dance, music and fun to Leith

Mela - global gathering

New festival director Chris Purnell talks about the challenges and highlights of the Mela celebration

With the 2012 Edinburgh Mela set to be bigger and better than ever, Kelly Apter talks to new director Chris Purnell about his vision for the festival.

‘I really believe that the Mela is the only Edinburgh festival which is accessible to the ordinary chap,’ says Chris Purnell. A contentious statement from the man who recently took over the reins of this popular annual event – certainly in the eyes of the other festival directors. But maybe he’s got a point.

At just £3 for a day ticket, and free for anyone under 13, the Mela is affordable for all. Situated in the heart of Leith, it’s also a chance for generations to come together and be entertained in one place. If you don’t like the sound of the performers on the Main Stage, head over to the Mix Stage for some up-and-coming talent. Or venture inside the Mela Kidzone for ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’, a series of continent-hopping activity workshops.

‘Essentially, the Mela is a family event,’ says Purnell. ‘So it has to be affordable and accessible. It’s £3 for a day’s entertainment, and hopefully offers something new that people haven’t seen before.’

For 2012, part of the ‘something new’ is a World Dance Feste, which Purnell has introduced to get more dance onto the programme. Starting with a free performance of Indian love story Rama & Sita on Friday night, the dance line-up continues over the weekend, incorporating hip hop, Chinese dance, parkour, street theatre, Indian Classical dance and Bollywood.

‘When I first arrived here, I looked at the general Mela offering and it felt as though dance was the poor relation,’ says Purnell. ‘It was squeezed in wherever there was a spare slot. And I’ve always been a dance fan, so I thought how can we address this?’

As part of the World Dance Feste, Purnell has commissioned a new work from Glasgow-based Bright Night International. A journey through the daily life of four people, 9-2-5 blends acrobatics, hip hop and contemporary dance for a piece which Purnell describes as ‘the kind of work that the Mela really wants to encourage, and that young people want to see.’

It’s this desire to celebrate the past, but look to the future, that typifies Purnell’s entire programming for this year. Alongside acts such as traditional Kenyan drummers Kakatsitsi on the Main Stage, you’ll also find 28-year-old Soumik Datta, a composer-in-residence at London’s Southbank Centre who has collaborated with Beyoncé.

‘Obviously the Mela is known for its traditional Asian music and dance, but I wanted to showcase that traditional work alongside this new vibrant creativity that is happening in our midst in Scotland and the UK generally. What I don’t want, is for the Mela to become a museum — a place where people go just to see traditional art forms, because it would be very sad if diverse communities were only seen in that context.’

Formerly known as the Garden Stage, the new Mela Mix stage is also an attempt to showcase the ‘emerging youthful stuff’ Purnell is so keen to promote, with acoustic music, rappers and DJs all taking turns. According to Purnell, it’s an important counterbalance to the big acts on the Main Stage, which include bhangra star Jassi Sidhu and DJ Surinder Rattan of OMG fame.

But it all starts with a firework display on Friday night – a deliberate attempt by Purnell to announce his intentions to the city. ‘The Mela gets out shouted sometimes,’ says Purnell, ‘because there are a lot of noisy big brothers and sisters in Edinburgh. And we wanted to say hang on a minute, we’re here and we’re doing something really exciting.’

Edinburgh Mela, Leith Links, 0131 661 7100, 31 Aug-2 Sep, £3 (under 13s free).


Edinburgh Mela

World music, dance, fashion, food and fun. During the week the Mela takes over various venues around Leith.

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