Arts festivals have become calendar events in Malawi. The year 2015 has had the good and the bad, the fun and the boring sides of the four major festivals that fun-lovers witnessed in all the regions.
The celebrated Lake of Stars and Sand Music Festival went into history as festival bangers who, arguably, held flawless events that have contributed immensely to the economy and tourism of the country.
On the other hand, the two-year-old Likoma Festival and Blantyre Arts Festival—established in 2009—seem to be on the learning curve.
Unlike the previous year where three of the festivals clashed, the events in the year ending did not scramble for patronage, thanks to government’s pro-active approach in setting up a harmonised calendar.
The Likoma Festival was given the breathing space to scout for more patronage as it was the only festival during Easter Celebrations. That, however, proved costly for organisers.
Coming out of the faultless maiden event that took place eight months earlier, they did not have enough time to prepare for the second coming of the festival that takes place on the tanning sands of Likoma Island.
The result? The festival was a flop that left most people disappointed due to hitches in transport logistics, equipment, accommodation for artists and time wastage.
That aside, Likoma Festival draws its strength from the ship cruises and its subsequent opportunity for sightseeing aboard the MV Ilala to the unexploited breath-taking island—a unique aspect from other festivals.
Surely, the year 2015 is a lesson for organisers not to be complacent if the festival is to return without blemish this year.
It was then time for the international Lake of Stars Festival in September which boosted of over 80 acts from 10 different nationalities, 4 500 attendees; thereby, generating more than $1.7 million for the local economy.
This, according to organisers, is a feat in the festival’s 12-year history as the 2014 festival had 70 acts with 4 200 attendees and contributing not more than $1.7 million (about K1.13billion).
Figures aside, the festival at the palm-fringed shores of Lake Malawi in Mangochi benefited entrepreneurs of all size—small, medium and institutions. At least 60 small and medium entrepreneurs and 20 institutions set up stalls to showcase and sell their commodities.
Above all, as revealed by the Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango, “all known lodges were fully booked around the festival venue”.
“This simply means that local business people are benefiting from such festivals in line with our desire of opening up the tourism sector. The more tourists visit such events the more opportunities are opened,” he said.
The Sand Music Festival in Salima, on the other hand, could arguably be the best festival held this year as, it appears, more people were satisfied with the acts, largely due to the international headliner Busy Signal.
In terms of figures, it was the most patronised festival, registering a staggering 6 000 patrons that clad the beaches of Sunbird Livingstonia early October.
The sounds and echoes of the event continue to be heard to this day, of course, compounded by the flop of his reggae counterparts, Morgan Heritage. Such is the pleasure the Reggae Music Again star has, to the extent that he has used his Sandfest picture for his latest riddim Free up Black People.
“It feels good to see Busy using the Sandfest picture on his latest riddim, Free up black people,” Sandfest organizer Lucius Banda sums up his excitement on the local event which metamorphosed into an international feast.
The year 2015, however, has seen festivals embracing more forms of arts apart from music. The festivals celebrated traditional dances, fashion, poetry, drama, visual arts, film and photography.
The Blantyre Arts Festival, in particular, exposed the hidden treasures that lack a platform to exhibit their skills on a daily basis.
Even the Minister of Youth and Culture Grace Chiumia admitted that the country is sitting on gold that can be exploited if more artists are promoted and exposed.
Ironically, her ministry is dormant in making sure that artists have avenues to showcase their talents as the Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) is lying in dilapidated state.
Call it crocodile tears or real, Chiumia almost cried, pledging that her ministry will come up with “a plan to see how best to utilise this place”.
Only if such plans are turned into reality will artists smile again in the year 2016. n