The Mela Festival and Why I Love Oslo

Mela – Sanskrit; gathering, to meet.

So this last week I got to see more of Oslo than the first, and one of the uniquely Oslo experiences I had was attending the Mela Festival. Now the Mela Festival does happen in different cities in many countries, but I had never heard of it before, though it’s been taking place in Oslo annually since 2001. The festival is held outside of Oslo’s famed city hall, right by the docks of the fjord, and it is free for all to attend (something that I, as a student in a VERY expensive city, could not pass up).

As the definition above suggests, Mela is a festival intended to celebrate a merging of cultures. The festival incorporated music, dance, literature, theater, and food from artisans from all over the world, as well as from local artists from right here in Oslo. The local artisans were mostly first generation Norwegians, such as Indian-born Norwegian singer/actress Samsaya, and they had their own ways of combining cultures. Samsaya in particular, who I was rather impressed with, spoke Norwegian but sang in English; she had urban and almost reggae feels to some of her music, and made comments to the audience about “no Norwegian stiffness!”

Saturday evening ended with the big headliner, Wyclef Jean, whom I had never really listened to or had interest in before. In fact, all I knew about him was that he was a rapper and once ran to be president of Haiti. Once he got on the stage, he was freestyling in English, Spanish, French, and Japanese, and then playing a massive guitar solo behind his head. He even got on the shoulders of security and rode them through the crowd to the very back. What impressed me about Wyclef Jean was not only his talent and stage presence, but first and foremost his passion for this earth. With everything going on in the world right now, he made sure to keep enough of the performance light and enjoyable, with necessary political commentary throughout. He even had a song about being a robot, a slave to our electronics.

I began to leave after Wyclef Jean’s set, more than satisfied with what Mela had given me, when on the wall of city hall facing the festival there began a projection. Now, I don’t speak Norwegian, so I can’t tell you exactly what this short film, Remix Norge, was saying, but I can tell you it was about bridging cultures. There were people in planes and trains coming to Norway, groups of people dancing in different styles together, and then pictures of real-life people, celebrating the citizens of minority groups who are now in esteemed positions in life. Even without speaking the language, it was endearing to watch.

Oslo, in less than two weeks, easily became my favorite city I’ve lived in thus far (and I love Vancouver). The city is beautiful, but more than that the people are intelligent and considerate. At the university orientation, the leader of student parliament told us that the government wanted to start charging tuition, but that the student parliament and head of the school won that battle, because education should be a right for all, no matter the economic background, and so tuition is free for all domestic and international students. We even have a new program, so students from war-torn areas like Syria and Gaza can come here to finish their studies in safety.

At the same orientation, the mayor of Oslo told us that every minority is represented in the population of Oslo, and that it is important here to judge a person as an individual as opposed to part of a group. Their are museums and statues all over the city, and many of the museums are sponsored by the school, so students get in for free. And what all of this tells me is that Oslo is a city that understands the importance of celebrating your history while moving towards a better future.

Perhaps it helps that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded here for over a century, and the Nobel Peace Center is located right where Mela took place. All I know is that if those are the principles of this city, they are ones I can respect and stand for. And for that and so many other reasons, I hold Oslo in high regards.

Have you been to Oslo? Can you name a city that invokes a sort of inspiring passion out of you? Let me know in the comments! I’ll be back soon with a more literature-related post.

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