Last Saturday, the Brandeis South Asian Student Association (SASA) hosted MELA, its annual culture show. This year’s “Raabta, our Shared Connection” had a variety of dance sequences and features celebrating South Asian cultures and displayed a vibrant, talented cultural community at Brandeis.
Countries represented included Pakistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Maldives with their flags displayed around Usdan’s Levin Ballroom. As one of the event’s emcees explained, Raabta is an Urdu word that means an “unexplained connection to a stranger.”
The event began with a slam poetry performance by Dean of Students Jamele Adams and
Brandeis alum Usmaan Hameedi ’12. Hameedi spoke from the perspective of Bhagat Singh, the Indian nationalist revolutionary, with Adams assuming the role of radical African American political activist Malcolm X, trading off verses about fighting systemic political oppression. Both chose revolutionaries that were murdered for their beliefs. The piece ended with their voices in unison, the resounding cry of “This body will fight back!”
The Classical Indian Ensemble was up next, with a dance telling the story of the “Race around the world,” a Hindu myth about the brother gods Ganesha and Kartikeya, who compete for a special fruit from their father, Lord Shiva. Instead of traveling around the world three times like Kartikeya, Ganesha makes three circles around his parents, telling them that they are the whole world. The dancers presented this story with bright, distinct colors of dress accentuated with ghungroos, strings of bells tied to the ankles, that added a live percussion element.
Particular standouts of the show were the Sophomore Dance, with the performers’ remarkable coordination to the fusion of classical and popular music (Drake), enhanced by complex, dynamic lighting and Chak De!, Brandeis’ premiere Bollywood fusion dance team, who were spectacular with the dancers’ exceptionally energetic and well-executed choreography. It was obvious that many hours of practice had gone into the piece, and the team should be proud of their accomplishment. Another standout was Brandeis Bhangra, who performed a traditional style of dance from the Indian province of Punjab, mixed old and new, South Asian music fused with “Chun-Li” and “Plain Jane” with great synchronicity and sense of rhythm. One movement where dancers jumped over prop sticks was particularly impressive.
There was also a four-piece outfit from the Berklee Indian Ensemble, who performed admirably in the face of technical difficulties. The total group boasts 52 musicians overall, with videos that have racked up over 98 million views, and will be performing a full show on December 15 at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
This year, MELA organizers selected The Citizens Foundation as their charity of choice. TCF is a Pakistani non-profit that provides education to the underprivileged, according to Citizens Foundation Director Abdullah Jafari, who gave a presentation during the show, the NGO has created over 200 schools throughout Pakistan. A priority of the organization is educating and empowering women, in part by only employing women as teachers.
A thoroughly engaging and exciting show, MELA performers demonstrated great accomplishment and proud cultural tradition throughout, supported by a strong, enthusiastic crowd. There was also free Indian food following the show.