THERE aren’t many places where you can settle down for a story on a Viking longboat, watch two South American dance styles battle it out in a unique reworking of Romeo and Juliet, and then be transported back to the 90s by clubbing favourites The Orb.
But that’s exactly the kind of variety which will be awaiting visitors to next weekend’s Edinburgh Mela.
The annual event is back with a vengeance, claiming to be “bigger and better” than ever before.
This year’s line-up speaks for itself. With around 300 performers across the two-day event on Leith Links, organisers have promised there is something for everyone.
The final night will be closed by dance legends The Orb, who will be collaborating with drumming group Kakatsitsi, from Ghana, in a set only ever previously performed at the Glastonbury Festival.
“We are very excited about the programme this year,” says festival director Chris Purnell. “We are really trying to up the game and improve our offering and appeal to a wider audience across the city.
“I can safely say this is the biggest year yet.”
As Scotland’s largest festival of world music and dance, the Mela will feature a range of acts from Cuba, West Africa, Brazil, Senegal, Ghana, Spain, Kenya and China.
It will showcase a host of dance styles performing on the World Dance Feste stage, including hip hop, flamenco, tango, Chinese fan dance and circus.
The popular Mela fashion show will also make its return, featuring both local and international designers, while children will be entertained in the “go wild” themed Mela Kidzone arena, which will see musicians, storytellers and dancers keep the little ones amused.
One of the highlights of the weekend will be the specially-commissioned reinvention of Romeo and Juliet, Star Crossed, which will see styles Brazilian capoeira and Argentinian tango battling it out in a passionate, tribal piece of narrative dance.
Chris, who has worked in production for 20 years and joined the Edinburgh Mela team last year from the London Mela, believes it’s this kind of variety which sets the event apart from anything else.
“Edinburgh has a huge amount of potential,” he says. “There are lots of things I have learned over the years, but the London Mela is very different, and Edinburgh has a much more rounded artistic offering and much more variety.
“Obviously The Orb headlining on the Sunday night is a massive draw and real coup. The only other manifestation of this collaboration between The Orb and Kakatsitsi was at Glastonbury, so this is a very unique happening.”
The Edinburgh Mela first started in 1995 with just a few hundred attendees, and has grown to an event which now attracts tens of thousands of people. The site at Leith Links has a capacity for 10,000 visitors at any one time, but last year the Mela drew crowds of up to 30,000 over the course of the two days.
But Chris says the figures aren’t the driving force for him – it’s the accessibility and variety that the event provides to Edinburgh residents. “We would hope to match last year, but I’m not really in the numbers game in the sense of trying to beat the target. For me, it’s about providing a real quality show and engaging with people across the city.”
For the first time the event will be streamed live on the internet, via the Mela’s website. Organisers have also been working to incorporate a strong green message in a bid to become a “zero waste” event. All non-compostable packaging has been banned from the site and Edinburgh-based Vegware – the UK’s only completely compostable food packaging firm – has been brought on board to supply the food village.
They have also teamed up with the city council to encourage visitors to cycle to the event using the newly-opened Portobello to Leith cycle path. A special parking area for bikes will be set up close to the site entrance and a “bike doctor” will be on hand to give the once-over to cycles.
• The Edinburgh Mela takes place on Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1. For more information and tickets, visit www.edinburgh-mela.co.uk