For two months, the entertainment industry has been inactive due to the restrictions on public gatherings as a precaution to the spread of coronavirus.
In a bid to contain the spread of the pandemic, Malawi Government outlawed all gatherings of more than 100 people. This meant no musical shows, poetry sessions and drama performances during the period.
During the period, few creatives restricted themselves to virtual performances. Though they were able to interact with their fans, the other side of their trade, monetary returns, was suffering.
While artists were wallowing in poverty due to closed revenue streams, government stood firm on its resolve that there should be no live public performances.
What was to break the camel’s back, however, was the conduct of politicians. With the forthcoming fresh presidential election on June 23, both sides of the political divide have engaged in a fully-fledged campaign gear.
The creative industry looked at this conduct with huge contempt.
It was with little surprise that a group of local musicians calling themselves Concerned Active Musicians rang the first bell of what was about to come. During a press briefing in Lilongwe three weeks ago, they made clear their intention to resume live public performances.
They accused the government of playing double standards by allowing politicians to hold mass rallies while they remained holed up at home in the name of Covid-19 precautionary measures.
Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) followed it up with a media briefing of their own, accusing government of not considering their predicament during this pandemic.
What followed was an announcement of scheduled live performances by a number of the country’s most followed acts, notably Black Missionaries Band, ‘Soldier’ Lucius Banda and his Zembani Band and Skeffa Chimoto, among others.
Sensing danger, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture last week released a statement warning musicians not to resume public performances. They said the regulations set by the government to contain the pandemic were still in force.
But the musicians could have none of it. Concerned Active Musicians chairperson Wendy Harawa told Chill they would only back down if politicians stopped using musicians and playing music during their rallies.
She said: “All shows are going ahead. We don’t understand government’s position.
“We are being prevented from making money from our music, but the politicians are using our music to entertain and attract people during their rallies.”
And indeed, at the weekend, the announced shows took place. Black Missionaries performed in Blantyre and Mangochi, Skeffa performed in Mchinji, Kasungu and Dwangwa in Nkhotakota while Zembani Band was in Salima and Liwonde in Machinga.
In an interview, Lucius Banda confirmed that Zembani Band was back in business.
He said: “The truth is that the Covid-19 cases that have been coming to Malawi have been imported. I am saying that deliberately because we could have managed to curb the pandemic at an early stage when we had the initial three cases by closing our borders.
“In the three months that we have had the virus in Malawi, only four people have died of it. Of course, every life matters, but have we checked how many people have died because of malaria and other diseases during the same period? Why are we not giving the same prominence to such diseases as well?”
Black Missionaries Band manager Ray Harawa said: “We follow what the political leadership tells us. In this case, they have spoken to us silently through their actions. Beyond that, they are better-placed to respond whether we still have the disease among us or not.”
However, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture spokesperson Symon Mbvundula said though the musicians have gone back to the stage, the decision to resume live performances will be made and announced by the government.
He declined to comment further referring us to the Ministry of Health (MoH).
On his part, MoH spokesperson Joshua Malango said, as far as they are concerned, the ministry’s stand on public performances remains the same.
He said: “Our stand is the same. For those going against that, it will now be an issue between them and the law enforcers.”
This weekend, more artists such as Black Missionaries, Kell Kay, Provoice, Henwood, Boy Hidden and Charisma have announced their live performances. On the other hand, the number of cases continues to swell on a daily basis.