The annual Preston Mela celebration will take place on the 17 June at Moor Park between 10am-4pm and is free. In addition to this event, Preston City Mela are also responsible for a variety of community work and education across the city.
‘Mela’ is defined as an Indian festival or gathering which typically includes dance, music and art. In the UK, Mela is also used to bring people from different backgrounds together and showcase South Asian culture.
Preston City Mela helps preserve the South Asian culture, heritage and arts in the North West through their performances and workshops.
What is Preston City Mela?
In Preston, the Mela programme holds an annual event which celebrates the diversity of the city. This event features live performances from dancers and musicians and hosts a variety of stalls offering food and activities such as henna tattoo art.
“It is an event where a lot of artists are brought together to present South Asian art forms to the public. South Asian art forms are varied and they are extremely rich and complex in terms of their content for performance.” Abhinandana Kodanda (director of performing artists at Preston City Mela).
Alongside their annual event, Preston City Mela works closely with the community to help teach and raise awareness about traditional South Asian art forms.
Over the past three years, Preston City Mela have worked with the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire and the local Mayor to provide school children with the opportunity to learn about these arts through dance and music workshops.
Gulab Singh MBE is the executive producer of Preston City Mela. Singh believes that resources for young people wanting to learn traditional South Asian activities are limited.
“If they want to be a violinist or pianist, etcetera, they can have that coaching and support to elevate their skills set and get into the performance arena. There’s no such thing for South Asian arts and if Mela wasn’t doing it, that wouldn’t happen.” Gulab Singh MBE.
He argues that it is necessary for the Government to re-evaluate the way creative projects are funded in order to better reflect the diversity of the UK’s population.
“Growing up in the UK, I think [mela] helped me as well as a lot of other people connect with their own culture… In schools, you don’t really hear about these things. It’s expression and also education, I think that’s a large part of it. I think it’s very important to me, the Mela, but also Preston as a whole.” Kavya Krishnamoorthy (a dancer taught under Preston City Mela’s programme).
In addition to Preston City Mela’s work within schools, the programme also works to develop local talent. Through coaching sessions in music, dance and other arts, the programme is able to enhance young artists’ skill sets and provide individuals with a platform to showcase their art.
As the director of performing artists, Kodanda is responsible for the content of Preston Mela’s performances and bringing together a variety of local and national performers to showcase South Asian arts. She believes that this helps to, “motivate the young and budding artists who are present here in Preston.”
The Mela Report
The aspirations of Preston City Mela were solidified in The Mela Report, which was launched at the House of Commons on the 17 May. The report was made in collaboration with The Mela Partnership and aims to document the journey of South Asian heritage and establish Mela’s importance across the UK.
As part of The Mela Partnership, Preston City Mela worked closely with other Mela programmes to produce this report.
“I think it was significant to launch the report in the House of Commons because it gives some momentum to recognition around community art spaces happening within South Asian communities.” Gulab Singh MBE
The report highlights several key features of these programmes across the UK, including the role Mela plays in increasing cultural understanding and, as it states, “gaining more respect for South Asian arts.”
The History of Preston City Mela
The first Preston Mela event took place in 1997, and over the years it has helped to develop the profile of South Asian culture within the North West. Preston City Mela, however, believe that the catalyst to developing the programme as it is known today was Preston’s 1992 Guild event.
South Asian communities began to establish themselves in Preston throughout the 60’s and 70’s, yet most traditional celebrations only took place on a small scale in rented-out church halls or community centers. The Guild Parade saw different South Asian community groups come together to share their traditions and culture on a larger scale.
“It gave us an opportunity to showcase our arts, culture, traditions etc and it was very much based around amateur-ish kind of dance performances. It evolved from there. One of the things I’m a big believer in is that culture is never static, it’s always evolving. As it evolves, we’re bringing different influences in.” Gulab Singh MBE
From here, the Mela programme was developed after ongoing campaigning by Gulab Singh, Ishwer Tailor, Charu Ainscough and Cllr Bhikhu Patel.
In more recent years, the programme has been involved in other major events across Preston including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebration, which was attended by over 8,000 people.
In the future, Preston City Mela aims to cultivate and grow the current programme.
By engaging with their audiences and artists, Preston City Mela is constantly refreshing and developing their project to further reflect and engage with the city and the diverse community who reside within it.
More about the history of Preston City Mela can be found here: PCM History