For nine years, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop and Horisont Foundation have collaborated to organize one of the biggest annual events in Scandinavia. The Mela started on a small scale in 2001 with 6000 people attending the first one, and grew over the years. In 2010 it attracted a multicultural audience of more than 330,000 people of all age groups.
The Oslo Mela is an annual festival where music truly transcends boundaries and cultures, building bridges between East and West. Where else would you get to see over a thousand Europeans head-banging to Arif Lohar’s iconic chimta, while Indians and Pakistanis join in with bhangras. If not this, there are the qawwalis that have awed the Norwegian audiences. Rizwan and Moazzam Ali Khan Qawwal sang Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s popular numbers, while classically trained singer Rafaqat Ali Khan had the audience swooning at his rendition of “Mast Qalandar”.
The objective is to create a platform for cultural dialogue and exchanges between Pakistan and Norway and contribute to the growth of performing and visual artistes in the field of art, music, theatre and puppetry. During the first Mela a round-table conference titled “Connections” was held. Talks were organised to educate Norwegian artistes about the arts in Pakistan. A lecture was also delivered by Annemarie Schimmel, one of the world’s leading experts on Sufism and the Sufi tradition in literature.
In 2002 the Mela was officially inaugurated in the Oslo City Hall in the presence of H.M. King Harald of Norway, Pakistan’s Minister of Culture, the Lord Mayor of Oslo and many other dignitaries. The main festival arena has been Rådhusplassen, the City Hall Square facing the harbour, along with other venues like theatres and art galleries. Activities included concerts, plays, poetry recitals, literary activities, puppetry, kite-flying, fashion shows, exhibitions of contemporary art, miniature paintings, textile design, and traditional handicrafts. More than a hundred distinguished artistes, officials and guests had come from Pakistan, England, Germany, Sweden and Denmark to take part in the festival.
Over the years the Mela has developed its own identity mixing Pakistani, Norwegian, Indian, African and Middle Eastern cultures. The ambience of the event is created by the RPTW team under the supervision of the Festival’s Artistic Director, Faizaan Peerzada. Every Mela aims to introduce new ideas. In 2007 people took hundreds of photos of a Pakistani truck, which was being painted live by Tariq, a Pakistani painter from Rawalpindi. The exhibit was called “Art on Wheels.” Children and art lovers gaped at the intricate designs in vibrant colours on the truck. Children also hovered around the huge animal puppets displayed by Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in the City Hall Square in Oslo. Earlier, in 2004, the theatre ship Innvik was placed in the City Hall Square, and was the venue for fairy tale plays, classical concerts and puppet performances. One of the performances at Innvik was a play called Fire, Earth, Water, which Faizaan Peerzada and Italian puppeteer Elisabeta Potasso created and performed together.
During the nine years since its inception more than 1500 artistes have performed at the Oslo Mela, including international artistes such as Abida Parveen, reggae musician Apache Indian, Arif Lohar, Atif Aslam, Somali artiste Maryam Mursal, Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke, Naheed Siddiqui, Bollywood Brass Band from London, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Stereo Nation. The Oslo Mela does not only convene international artistes, but also projects the work of local Norwegian artistes who are from ethnic minority communities. In 2007, the Mela also had performers from Iran, Vietnam, Somalia and Tanzania participating.
Another huge trademark of the festival is the transcendental fusion music created and played impromptu. In 2004 qawwal Sher Mian Dad and Transjoik, who play ambient electronica music, played together in a wonderful concert. The performance was later repeated in Lahore. An unusual experiment that turned out well was a combination of traditional Sufi music with Spanish Flamenco. Another successful collaboration was between the Pakistani sitar player Ashraf Sharif Khan and the Norwegian accordionist Stian Carstensen, perhaps for the first time ever that these two instruments were played together. Ashraf Sharif Khan is one of the new generation’s raga masters and has played all over the world. Stian Carstensen started out as a jazz guitarist and is now known as a talented multi-instrumentalist, influenced among others by East European folk music.
A strong connection has been established over the years and its success lies in the efforts of both the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop and Horisont Foundation. One can only hope that the connections strengthen in future, uniting nations in peace and joy.