Entert inment pilgrims in Blantyre saw the reopening of the French Cultural Centre in style as Malian great Salif Keita, graced the stage in his solo performance on Malawian soil.
From the onset it was all clear that Keita was in the country for the one thing he knows best– a starring role in a festival of no mean standing.
Preceding his act were local poets Hudson Chamasowa, Michael Benjala, Q Malewezi, Babangoni Chisale and Sylvester Kalizanâ€™goma who added fatally hilarious imagery to a glittering epilogue dotted with music from Sally Nyundo and the Run Tingz Band, ethnocentric Fikisa of Akamwire fame, the Black Missionaries as well as US star drummer Leon Mobley in a 20-member djembe session alongside award winning Mankhamba and the countryâ€™s sole female percussionist Beatrice Kamwendo.
All were impressive on the big stage, but none got calls for replays the size Chamasowa had when director of ceremonies cut his satirical poem Mbado Ukubwerawo.
But the problem with mentioning any other performers together with Keita is that it presumes he is just an ordinary artist.
However, such is his sheer shine and show on the world music scene that his engineers had to re-arrange the equipment and subjected it to a sound check which lasted for almost an hour.
It was on the brink of the coming of the Voice of Africa that murmurs of anxiety emerged in the audience and director of ceremonies DJ Dude the Smasher (real name Stanley Kadzuwa) assured them that the francophone cast was doing everything to leave behind a memorable act.
The moment of truth dawned when Keita finally appeared on stage around 11.30pm, about two hours behind his scheduled time. Whereas many expected him to sweat it out as did Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi at the same festival last year, he feted the audience with his trademark smooth jazzy voice and paced across the stage with the ease that subtly reminded his keen followers that he is above all a descendant of the royal family of the legendary Sundiata and he could have left music griots if he wanted.
â€œMalawi, I love you. You have beautiful country and smiling faces. Itâ€™s priceless to be at this festival,â€ said the artist who had to dish out Africa, Deri, Laban , Ekulo, The Difference and Madam amid an irritating hiss emanating from the sound equipment.
The well choreographed act was received well by an audience dominated by tourists and expatriates from overseas, but it was Africa which earned claps and wows from both the youthful spectators and the old.
In an interview after the show, drummer Mobley, who has played for Madonna, Michael Jackson and Damien Marley, said by giving the stage to Keita from West Africa, BAF had proved it was really a meeting of cultures.
â€œI came all the way from Boston because I have heard from my friend Masauko Chipembere that Malawi is beautiful and a home to hospitable people. It is a rare experience to be here with our friends from West Africa and beyond,â€ said the US ace who facilitated a workshop in drumming on Saturday.
And Anjiru Fumulani, leader of Malawian Music Awards best band, the Black Missionaries, said locals were excited to use the same stage as international artists of Keitaâ€™s standing.
â€œFor us, it is a dream come true to perform just before a legend we have always followed and admired. It makes us aim high and work harder. We are indebted to BAF for inviting us,â€ said Fumulani.
The show ended at 12.40am, leaving BAF with the tall order to sustain the vibe until Sunday.