Many players in the entertainment industry have cited lack of affordable entertainment venues as a contributing factor to the slow development of the industry.
The situation is even harder for blossoming artists who lack the financial muscle to hire venues for various performances which are mostly overpriced and too huge for their following.
From such scenarios, some promising artists have ended up being squeezed out before even making any mark in the industry despite their huge potential.
For example, in Blantyre, the most expensive venue fetches as high as K1 million. That sum represents a huge investment for artists who are just starting.
And for some venues, the acoustics are so poor, thereby compromising the sound quality when artists are performing. So, to artists who value quality, most such venues are a no-go-zone.
Sam Chiwaka manages musician Faith Mussa and he shares the agony that artists and their managers go through in securing good and affordable venues: “Venues for local artists can be a problem in terms of hiring as some are just too prohibitive.
“And sometimes just to get the desired venue can be a problem too. Some venues are booked for weddings from now till December and, as artists, we remain with an option of performing on Fridays which has not always proved to be a viable idea.”
The opening of Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in 2016 in Blantyre came as a relief to many players in the sector and steadily the venue has established itself as the hub of entertainment activities in the city.
Unlike the other venues, the events which are mostly held at JCC are free despite being educational and of high cultural value.
During the weekends, JCC is home to a lot of Malawi’s creative talents such as live concerts, acoustic nights, theatre productions, movie screening, premiers, visual exhibitions, storytelling sessions, poetry slams, book launches and literary festivals.
JCC deputy director Daisy Belfied says: “We host a huge variety of events. Anything which works to celebrate and develop the rich diversity of Malawian talent. First and foremost, our aim is to provide the people of Blantyre with a wider access to culture, educational entertainment.
“We also offer language education. That is the point of the centre, to provide the people of Blantyre with culture which is made in Malawi.”
JCC is part of the Jacaranda Children’s Foundation founded by Marie De Silva with Luc Deschamps as its executive director. The centre was part of their vision to promote arts and culture in Malawi.
“Our other focus is on the youth. We work to find ways to make the creative industry more available to school groups. For instance, we have hosted over 10 school tours for extra-curricular visits, a Blantyre-wide children’s poetry competition and drama workshops,” Belfield says.
The owners of the place regard each event hosted at JCC as a co-production between themselves and the performing artists. As such, not much emphasis is pinned on the hiring cost of the place.
“Basically, the idea is to give opportunities to young people and artists who share our vision of celebrating Malawian culture and supporting the youth. Our mission is to make people recognise that art is a viable and profitable profession,” Belfied says.
The increase in the demand for the venue, as it is hosting at least an event per weekend with strong audiences too, the owners of the place have revealed plans to develop and expand the place.
Ekari Mbvundula, organiser of storytelling sessions, an event that has almost found a permanent home at the centre, is grateful for the support that JCC offers to artists.
She says: “What JCC is doing for the development of the arts is crucial. Not only do they provide space but they also help with the promotion of the event. They have really earned a good reputation in the industry.” n