“Middlesbrough is more than it’s given credit for. We punch above our weight.”
This weekend, around 50,000 people will flood into central Middlesbrough for the majestic, diverse Mela.
It’s music, it’s dance, it’s colour, it’s food, it’s clothing and it’s tradition.
It’s a fantastic assault on the senses that shows off Middlesbrough regionally, nationally and internationally.
Kash Patel has been involved in the Middlesbrough Mela for more than two decades.
When it began 32 years ago, it was a small event for Middlesbrough’s South Asian community – a few hundred people meeting to celebrate their culture, sell their wares, and share food.
“Now it’s grown into an event where 50,000 people come here. It adds hundreds of thousands of pounds to our economy,” says Kash, the chair of the Mela management committee, who has lived all over Middlesbrough.
“We’re a proud area but we’re not the size of Birmingham or London. Yet every year we hold this incredible cultural event.
“We are diverse, we have our South Asian community but we welcome people from all over the world to Middlesbrough and our Mela.”
This year’s Mela will return for two days on August 13 and 14 in Albert Park, a return home after a pandemic-hit two years.
And with the explosion of South Asian culture into the mainstream, Mela is unrecognisable from its humble beginnings.
“Mela is Sanskrit for gathering. It was originally conceptualised for the migrant community to gather and celebrate their cuisine, clothing, art and culture,” said Kash.
“It really didn’t originally have a big presence in terms of music. But music from the South Asian subcontinent has exploded in popularity since.
“Mela isn’t niche now. It’s become popular culture in the western world.”
A far cry from Kash’s childhood, he remembers.
“I was one of the only Asians in my school – it was only when I went to Teesside University and joined the Indian society that I realised how big South Asian culture could be in Middlesbrough,” he said.
“At first, it was imported from the subcontinent but as it has gone mainstream in the UK we’re exporting the culture back to India now. It’s gone full circle.”
As we sit and chat in Albert Park in the days leading up to the event, Kash’s phone rings off the hook. He’s been in meetings all morning and is set to show a sponsor around the Mela site after we’ve spoken.
To bring everything together is a huge undertaking.
“The month after Mela we have an evaluation of how the event went and then it all starts again!
“People on the management committee all have families, they all have jobs, but they make sacrifices and work hard all year round to make the event what it is.
“This wouldn’t happen without everyone’s support.”
This year, alongside art, clothes and food, the main stage will have world famous acts from all over the globe – from the UK to India and Punjab.
And it has a huge programme of events for children, a full fairground, workshops and a partnership with the Dorman Museum.
Middlesbrough’s Mela is one of the longest running events of its kind in the UK.
“The pandemic affected us but we kept going and continued to hold events, even if they weren’t quite what people were used to,” continued Kash, who is also involved in organising Middlesbrough’s new large-scale Diwali event.
“I can’t wait for it to be back and I know our visitors will love it back to full strength.
“These big multicultural events bring our community together. It’s community cohesion. We can entertain and educate and everyone is welcome.
“I’m 100% proud of Middlesbrough, that we host these events so successfully. It puts us on the map, and shows everyone what our community is like.”
We are words: Mike Brown