The History of Nottingham Mela
Nottingham Mela: The First National Mela Festival
In August 1988, Nottingham and Bradford Mela occurred within three weeks of each other defining the national institution. The Melas were different as they were not based on faith unlike many other South Asian festivals, but instead it was based on the Asian community taking ownership and creating dialogues with other communities.
Nottingham Mela was established by Apna Arts- one of the founding organisations that formed New Art Exchange. It was driven by Parbinder Singh initially as a part-time unpaid venture, which involved young people as volunteers. The volunteers came up with the idea to hold a National Festival of Asian Arts and Music in Nottingham.
Skinder Hundal, CEO of New Art Exchange and one of the directors of Nottingham Mela, explains that the purpose of the earliest melas was to reconnect with the first generation of migrants with South Asian roots:
"the whole romantic dream of the mela was to have a kambal (blanket) out on the grass, the paranthas, the achar (pickle), the raita, and share in the festival environment, with street performers or performers on stage. It was that notion of what happened in India and Pakistan being brought over here, because that was a gap in people's experiences, and the second generation of Asians were detached from that experience. So it was connecting with their experiences of back home, recreating an element of that and then redefining it with a new generation here."
Skinder Hundal believes that the melas held in 1988 were ground breaking because they provided one of the first opportunities for a celebration in a public sphere which encouraged participation from different communities:
"The communities were taking ownership of their own destiny in promoting the arts and culture and making sure there is something there for the communities to enjoy and be proud of."
The festival has continued to be stronger than ever. Since 2008 it has been developed by Nottingham Mela Network, a collaboration between New Art Exchange and Nottingham Asian Arts Council.