The dream of one asylum seeker from DRC to have an art celebration at Dzaleka Refugee Camp came to life on Saturday with the inaugural Tumaini Festival.
This was a first for the refugee camp. In its 20 years of existence, this is the first time to host a music and cultural festival. The celebrations founder, Tresor Mpauni, was the hero of the 20 000 refugees who showered him with cheerful glances. Yet, this is an irony for the festival was dubbed Tumaini, a name that comes from the Swahili word for hope.
As early as 9 am, the camp’s ground was filled with both the young and the old while people trekked in from the shacks and shanties they call home.
Some wore their best clothes, but those that missed out on that fortune, still made it to the dance. In rags, they saw every reason to converge where the music was pounding from, for this was a day to remember.
On a normal Saturday, the refugees would have been taking care of their ‘homes’ or tending to their small-scale businesses, but this day proved too special that they came out in large numbers.
From the sounds of Lily Banda, George Kalukusha, Neil Nayar and the New Vibrations as well as the Konkalazi Band to moving verse by Maclean Mbepula and Yankho Seunda, they danced and jeered as the fun continued.
The hot sun was not a deterrent for them; they stood still and stayed where they had been watching every artist till nature gave up.
It was obvious, the refugees miss out on entertainment. The little form of entertainment only comes from countable bars within the camp and ends there. There have never been any form of entertainment from outside in the camp.
The festival also highlighted how much talent the refugee camp is blessed with. All the performers from Dzaleka amazed the crowds, but to top it all, Amohoro Drummers were absolutely stunning.
They are a unique fusion of disciplined group drumming and ritual dance from Burundi. Amahoro means peace in Kirundi language.
They made sure there was a sense of passion and urgency to the event. Dressed in the red, white and green traditional colours of Burundi and with big drums and even bigger smiles, the 10-strong group fused their music with energetic dance moves and chants.
The youngest in the group is a boy of about 13 who dazzled with his versatility on the drums as well as dancing. He never missed a step of the rhythmic set entwined with the tribal dancing.
Amahoro drums are as loud, but the dance moves soothe the soul.
Mpauni, alias Menes, also rocked the stage with his bilingual rap music done in French and English.
He wowed the patrons, who were watching him for the first time and possibly wondering how this talent can be hidden in a simple looking person like Menes.
The young man continues to have a reputable record in performance, especially in French, poetry and rap music.
Swahili is the main language at Dzaleka and the proceedings of the day had to go smoothly with a multilingual translator weaving his way between English and Chichewa.
Munasikia, translated to ‘are you listening’ and Sawasawa, meaning very good, were some of the mantras throughout the day. The festival, which will be an annual event, featured music, poetry, theatre, dance, traditional food and art exhibitions from Rwanda, Congo, Malawi, Burundi and Ethiopia.
It ran for one week until Saturday and arguably met all the cultural needs of the refugees while also benefitting the host community as a means of standing, singing, and dancing together for peace.
Dzaleka talents and cultures were exposed to Malawians and expatriates and promoted the camp as a place of unity, peace, coexistence and harmony among refugees and Malawian populations.
All the Malawian and international artists performed for free to bring hope to displaced people in Dzaleka.
Tumaini Festival was supported by Lake of Stars, Nyanja Productions, Plan Malawi and Music Crossroads.
Founded in 1994, Dzaleka is the only refugee camp in Malawi and has a population of about 20 000 asylum seekers from the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and a small number from Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan.