MELA gives voice to South Asian culture
This Saturday, the South Asian Students Association will put on one of Brandeis' biggest cultural festivals of the year, MELA. JustArts spoke to two students deeply involved in the festival: SASA Co-presidents Jasnam Sachathep '12 and Sriya Srikrishnan '12. Sachathep and Srikrishnan are both international students of Indian descent, though Sachathep currently lives in Thailand. These passionate students explained just how they bring a night of their native traditions to campus each year.
JustArts: How does the entire MELA production come together?
Sriya Srikrishnan: We start over the summer. There are defined roles each [executive] board member takes on [for MELA], besides their normal position. We have various committees: food, decorations, charity, organizing the after-party, publicity and there are two event coordinators who are in charge of all the acts. The basic committees take care of everything. Over the summer we also begin thinking about different themes.
Jasnam Sachathep: we try to start as early as possible.
JA: How do the different performers become involved in MELA?
SS: At our general [SASA] meetings we have sign-up sheets, and anyone can sign up for the standard class dances. People can sign up to be a choreographer. There are also individual acts, so whoever wants to do it can just come up and ask us. Once we have the list of acts we send it out on the listserve so that people can sign up for what they want to do.
JS: We don't limit it. Anyone can perform.
JA: What is this year's theme and how did you come up with it?
JS: The theme is "Pehchaan," which means identity. Well, that's one of several meanings/connotations of the word.
SS: Normally the e-board members come up with different themes. The theme has to be educational but broad enough that you can do a lot with it.
JS: It also has to be conducive to the structure of the show. How can we pick an overarching theme that ties everything together?
SS: We have lots of different acts, a slideshow, etc. We want a theme that can bring everything together.
JA: How will the theme be incorporated into the show?
JS: Voice recordings add a touch of non-South Asian opinions from people who have connections to our culture.
SS: Our slideshow will definitely be based on the topic. There are some acts that specifically address identity, in the form of poetry and dance. Our decorations on the outside of Levin [Ballroom] will be images of things that people in the club think identity or South Asian means to them.
JA: How is MELA 2011 different from other years?
SS: This year, we really reached out to the faculty and staff. We asked them to do voice recordings about what South Asia and MELA means to them. We also have some new acts and more individual performances.
JA: How many countries do SASA and MELA represent?
JS: Eight: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. We try to have a dance from each country, even if students aren't from that country. We've had Afghani dance and Nepali dance, though a majority of [Brandeis] students are from India and Pakistan. But we do make a mention of all the countries in the slide show. We may not have cultural dances from each country, but we try to include them.
JA: How do you feel in the days coming up to this year's event?
JS: I feel really bittersweet because it's senior year. You look forward to it but you don't want it to end, because this is it, this is the last time.
SS: I'm a senior as well, so it's really exciting and I feel the anxiousness. It usually goes by really quick, so I've just been trying to enjoy every moment of it. I've been trying to convince [Jasnam] to perform since freshman year, and now she's finally doing it, so I'm also really looking forward to that.
JA: What do you hope the audience will get out of the performances?
JS: In the show there are performances that are the same every year, but there's always that cultural touch that comes out to the campus. We don't get to show our culture throughout the year, we don't wear our traditional garb or do our dances normally. This is the one time when we're educating and showing the community what the South Asian culture is really about.
SS: Also, with this particular team, we want people to focus during the show on their own identity and what identity really means to them. That is something we would want them to take back from MELA.
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