The 2018 edition of the Sand Music Festival (SMF) came and went. We can now only reflect on the experience and feeling it brought while looking forward to the future.
Apart from looking forward to performances of both international and local artists, focus was also on the gains of the event if any.
In its eighth year, the Festival, which is managed by Impakt Events, was facing a stern test after some slight challenges in previous years. Most notable was the poor showing of last year’s main headliner Awilo Longomba and adverse weather conditions a year before.
But all these setbacks did not deter Lucius Banda, manager of Impakt Events, from pushing on for an all-locally organised festival which is perfect in all aspects.
“When we started this journey, very few people took us seriously. I approached my friends in the industry such as Black Missionaries Band and I told them that we should have our own music festival here. And today here we are,” he said in a hearty reflection when he got on stage on Saturday.
The general organisation of the event, the quality of performances and aspects of security especially people’s property such as vehicles, are always crucial in determining how successful such events turn out, he said.
Performers and Performances
On paper, the line-up of performers, was one of the most inviting in recent years. Three international headliners were announced. Jamaican reggae stars Kenyatta Hill and Andrew Tosh were joined by Zimbabwean Ammara Brown.
Other international names South African top sound mixer DJ Stavo, who was making his second appearance, Chris Aka and Amayenge Band from Zambia and DJ Zinga Beat from Italy.
The foreign legion complemented well the list of local acts, which was equally appetising. Malawi’s local reggae powerhouse Black Missionaries, their cousin Anthony Makondetsa, Lulu, Wendy Harawa, Zembani Band, Piksy, Nepman and Code were among some of the names on call.
Even the eventual failure of Andrew Tosh to make it to the festival did not appear to have shaken both the organisers and the festival goers.
Two days before the festival, Banda said; “I would say we were prepared for such kind of a thing. As you can notice that from Jamaica alone we had two artists and again his young brother Ricky also does sing their father’s songs which Andrew is expected to sing.”
As for Kenyatta, his excitement at performing in Malawi again was all visible. He strolled around Livingstonia Beach with unimaginable freedom. Like in his own testimony, he was back home.
During a media interaction on Saturday morning he said; “When I was out there I kept asking my team why we were delaying to get to Malawi already. Africa is my second home especially here in Malawi. There is something special about this place, the warmth of the place and its people is so real.”
When he got on stage later that night he gave his all in a performance that started from 3am to 6.30am. Almost everyone who took to the well-lit stage, which was provided by Entertainers Promotions, rose to be counted.
The equipment, provided by Evans Chibade from Lilongwe, was also faultless. Many times visiting artists have complained about lack of suitable equipment when they come, but during the SMF, such murmurs were not heard. Its sound output was simply superb.
The biggest hurdle the organisers faced was the late arrival of Ammara Brown. Initially she was expected to perform on the opening day of the festival, Friday.
But due to other engagements in her native Zimbabwe she missed her flight and ended up arriving late as she had to travel by road. By the time she was supposed to come on stage, she had just arrived in Lilongwe.
Instead a quick decision was made which saw Banda, who was billed to perform the next day, swapping slots with the Zimbabwean. A possible disaster was therefore averted. It was a big relief when she appeared all fresh and ready at a press briefing the next morning.
“My sincere apologies for that slight disappointment. But I am here and ready to give Malawians the best. So, we are on tonight,” she said.
One aspect which raised a few questions was pooling established acts together to perform on a single day—Saturday. This meant that each was apportioned limited time. Most notable Black Missionaries who were given 35 minutes of stage time.
And gospel artists, save for Patience Namadingo, all performed on Sunday instead of being mixed with secular acts. But Banda has defended the decisions, citing several reasons.
He said: “Ideally during a festival such as this one, the performances are supposed to be non-stop. As early as 10am people are supposed to be performing. But it has proven difficult over the years to convince one to come on stage during day time.
“And it is mostly too hot where we erect our stage during the day. In this case we are left with no option but to squeeze each other during the evening.”
He further said the way people perceive gospel music in the country is what forces the organisation to isolate gospel acts and allocate them their own special day.
“I think next year what we will do is invite an international gospel artist to headline the Sunday gig. The idea is to give those who love gospel music an equal chance to enjoy music of their choice. We may even advertise for the Sunday show separately,” he said.
Oftentimes such events have proved a prey for all sorts of crime. From breaking into people’s vehicles, invading sleeping tents to physically robbing people of their possessions such as phones.
This year such incidents were kept to a minimum. Apart from two cars which had their windows broken in an attempt to open the doors, no other cases of theft were recorded. The Ichocho Security Services team which was hired proved equal to the task.
They continuously patrolled the camp site making sure that anybody appearing to cause trouble was thrown out.
Call for Support
Despite the success of the festival, Banda has bemoaned lack of support from both the corporate world and government in the organisation of such events.
He said: “It is a pity that government through the Ministry of Tourism does not see the need to support us in such initiatives despite all the gains that they benefit when we hold such events.
“People fuel cars to come here and government benefits from the fuel levies. Tourists both local and international fill up the lodging places and the fees they pay are taxable. But the best they do is to come and preside over the opening ceremony.”
One of the country’s entertainment lords Jai Banda of Entertainers Promotion said: “This is the best SMF so far. The sound, stage and lighting were all on point. The crowd was responsive. The artists, from local to international, gave out their best.”
A Lilongwe-based festival goer Montfort Moyo said: “It was worth every penny and time. I have hardly missed these festivals and clearly there is a marked improvement in the way the festival is being organised.” n