Blantyre Arts Festival won over its sworn critics by pooling all acts on the same stage, but made new enemies by not adhering to the basics of timekeeping and sound management.
Fans may remember the four days for the majestic performance of Malian great Salif Keita at the French Cultural Centre on Friday. But when the music dies, it will go into history as a weekend marred by irritating slips in sound equipment seemingly unready for the big stage and a timetable that never was.
During and after his star performance, Keita was spotted seething with anger at BAF organisers silently rescheduled his act from 8pm to 11.30pm.
Â A BAF insider disclosed that the Malian has vowed never to tour Malawi again because he was put off by delays and hissing equipment which defied a 75-minute sound check.
â€œKeita made his feelings clear during the performance, but he plainly stated that he will never return at all cost because of BAFâ€™s unprofessional conduct,â€ said the source, who sought anonymity.Â
The Nation last week reported that the Malian star was reluctant to make the trip because his managers were wary with the equipment, something downplayed by BAF organisers. However, even the spectators were not amused at the weekend.
â€œBAF ought to be more organised than they have been. They seem to be learning from the same mistakes every year. They donâ€™t have a clear programme and the sound is problematic all the years I have attended the festival,â€ lamented Parry Weluzani.
In an interview, Entertainers Promotion president Jai Banda, who provided the sound and lighting equipment, blamed the poor sound quality on the lack of sound engineers in the country, failure by musicians to conduct sound checksÂ on time and delayed electrification of the FCC.
Said Mr Entertainer: â€œEvery band is supposed to have a professional sound engineer, but we donâ€™t have qualified engineers in Malawi. As usual, I arranged the equipment early in the day, but nobody, not even Keita, came for preparations.
â€œEventually, they did hasty sound checks while the audience was watching. And there were limited sources of power and even wires for TV cameras were competing for sockets with the sound equipment.â€
Keitaâ€™s engineer, who only identified himself as James, publicly decried interference from the lighting system whose wires were hanging loosely, but said he had unplugged MBC TV cameras because it was not normal to film Keitaâ€™s show without the consent of his managers.
During his stint as FCC resident engineer Castro Nkhunda co-worked with renowned international performers such as Oliver Mtukudzi, Ismael O, Angelique Kidjo and Habib Koite. He says before their arrival, the artists send a list of the required instruments and the hosts have to communicate on time what they have and do not.
â€œIf you donâ€™t have the specified pieces, you suggest substitutes. The complaints from Keitaâ€™s crew suggests that there wasnâ€™t enough communication,â€ he said.
But BAF coordinator MacArthur Matukuta is on the record as saying organisers were in close contact with the crew and touting the equipment as â€œthe same as the one Keita used in Zambiaâ€ on the eve of the show in Blantyre.
In a separate interview, DJ Khumbo and Mibawa Band instrumentalist Jayjay Munthali, who were part of the sound control team, attributed the sound problem to lack of earth wires as the venue was re-electrified in a hurry after two years of being looted and vandalise due to inactivity.
The nagging equipment conspired with lack of punctuality to spoil what was supposed to be the ultimate of fun in Blantyre. Starting from the festival opening by Minister of Tourism and Culture, all activities were two hours behind scheduled timeâ€”a thing that displeased Poetry Africa artists as well.
However, the male-dominated event ended on a positive note on Sunday although gospel performances by Great Angels, Thocco Katimba, Limbani Cement, Ethel Kamwendo-Banda, Pastor G and Ndirande Anglican Voices were downsized to two songs per act due to disobedience of the timetable.
But some seats were empty during the shutdownâ€”brightened by Kwathu Drama Groupâ€”although it pooled crowd-pulling names.