As the sun sets in the west of the scenic lakeshore district of Nkhata Bay, an English musician Andy Cato from Groove Armada flies onto the tiny Chintheche airstrip to headline the Lake of Stars (LoS) Festival.
It has taken him almost three days to reach the pristine beach of Chintheche Inn, along turquoise waters of Lake Malawi, due to flight cancellations. But that has not gone into his head to affect his act.
He puts up a brilliant set. And on the Malawian side, there is a legendary performance from Wambali Mkandawire while Malawi’s reggae superstars, the Black Missionaries, keep the revellers on their toes all night long.
That was in 2004. Malawi had the first LoS Festival which attracted dozens of people from the United Kingdom (UK) and hundreds from Malawi and Southern Africa. The festival touched hearts of many such that it won the Malawi Tourism Award that year.
After four festivals at the powder-fine Chintheche beach, the festival moved to Sunbird Livingstonia Beach in Salima in 2008 then to the palm-fringed Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi in 2009.
After a break in 2012, it returned as City of Stars in Lilongwe in 2013 before heading back to the waters—christened ‘Lake of Stars’ by Scottish explorer David Livingstone—in Mangochi for two years running since 2014.
Today, the festival returns to its roots with over 60 acts and 300 individual performances that will have South Africa’s Freshlyground, Zambia’s Roberto and Germany’s Timo Maas as main international headliners.
Locally, Tay Grin, Ethel Kamwendo-Banda, Faith Mussa, Patience Namadingo, Piksy, Sonye, Theo Thomson, Ril B, Wailing Brothers and Lusubilo Band, among others, are lined up for the event.
Missing in action are this year’s hit-makers and Malawi’s top artists Dan Lu, Lawi, Gwamba, the Black Missionaries, Lucius Banda, Lulu and Skeffa Chimoto.
LoS media manager Zilanie Gondwe says the internationally-acclaimed festival is kicking off at 8am today with a new concept dubbed Day of Ideas.
She says this is a programme to engage the youth in creativity so that they are inspired to think of how best they can improve Malawi.
The event, programmed to end at 3pm, targets 420 secondary students from Nkhata Bay, 50 secondary students with hearing impairments, 30 Mzuzu University (Mzuni) students and 50 adults.
“The programme is filled with fun and educative activities for the youth such as speed networking, various workshops centred on creativity, a pitch night style platform, speeches and mini-performances from festival artists and partners,” said Gondwe.
She said the festival will officially begin with box office opening at 12.30pm, adding that music will start playing from 4pm with the first live performance taking place at 5.30pm.
“A weekend jam-packed with arts, culture and entertainment shall not end until the sun has risen on Monday morning. The last performance ends at 2am and is immediately taken over by guest DJs over the bar to guide people to the sunrise,” said Gondwe.
On why some of Malawi’s top artists and this year’s hit-makers are missing on the line-up, Gondwe said not all artists can perform at the festival due to issues of space and budget constraints.
However, she said the line-up is “as representative as possible” where artists from each sector have been selected.
“We also try to give turns for the artists to avoid a scenario of having the same artist line-up for the festival every year. So, Tay Grin, Diktator and Ril B [who were missing from the initial line-up] have been added onto the list of acts for the festival and Roberto has revealed he shall have two guest performers join his live set,” said Gondwe.
On limited accommodation at Chintheche as compared to Nkopola, she said most revellers have embraced the concept of camping, adding some retail shops have run out of tents due to increased demand for the commodity as gig-goers gear up for the festival.
As part of LoS corporate social responsibility, a partnership has been established with a tree-planting enterprise at Chintheche Inn, Root to Fruit, to reduce the festival’s carbon footprint.
With global temperatures rising, Gondwe said Root to Fruit offers an easy and effective way to care for the climate and Malawian communities.
“One tree planted with Root to Fruit will cost just K1 500 and will not only off-set pollution from the average festival-goer’s travel within Malawi, but will also provide local communities with food, medicine, building materials, improved soil quality, income generation and much more,” she said.
In the 13 years of the LoS project, there have been 10 festivals and over 70 events in the UK and Africa.
The event generates millions of kwacha for the Malawian economy. n