Malawi has lately witnessed an upsurge of visiting foreign artists, especially musicians. Artists from Zambia, Nigerian, South Africa and even as far as Jamaica, have come to perform in Malawi to headline events such as the Lake of Stars Music Festival, Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) and Sunbird Sand Music Festival.
Last year was particularly busy for Malawi. South African gospel musician Rebecca Malope performed in the country as did rapper Casper Nyovest and award-winning Lira, all from down south.
Uhuru, also from Mzansi, was the headline act for the Lake of Stars Music Festival which featured other less well-known musicians.
Meanwhile, Jamaican Busy Signal headlined the Sunbird Sand Music Festival while fellow Jamaican reggae group, Morgan Heritage, closed the year with a show to forget.
Chimzy Kelly, famed for the hit Dorica, performed at the Urban Music Party festival last year and he leads a long list of Zambian musicians who performed in Malawi.
P-Square and Davido from Nigeria and Mali’s Afro Pop singer Saif Keita are some of the artists that have also toured and performed in Malawi recently.
On the theatrical front, Malawi has laid the red carpet for Zambian irrepressible comic duo of Difikoti and Bikitoni, Nigerian comedian and actor Basketmouth (real name Bright Okpocha) and Ugandan queen of comedy Annie Kansiime.
Much has been written about the performances by foreign artists in Malawi, but while some of the shows failed to live up to billing due to poor organisation and shoddy contractual arrangements, others thrilled Malawians.
However, while foreign artists come to Malawi to headline events or perform at one event or the other, the country is not exporting as much talent to other countries. Music expert Wyndham Chechamba thinks he knows why: low standards of Malawi music!
“If foreign artists come and headline all the events or festivals that happen in Malawi, then there is something wrong with the position of our music. We must always ask ourselves: Where are we on the international map and why are we there?” says the music tutor.
He says unless Malawi starts training its artists for them to produce mature music that can create demand on international level, the country should forget about exporting talent or headlining events in other countries.
“When we rely on foreign artists to headline our events in Malawi it just tells us that we need to pull our socks to produce brands of that calibre that can withstand competition on continental or global levels,” says Chechamba.
Jazz musician Mte Wambali Mkandawire last week told our sister paper, The Nation, that it is culture that propels music to stardom. That is to say, if Malawian artists fail to depict their distinctive culture, the world will have nothing to look out for in Malawi.
“If you critically look at the music or artists that have made significant breakthrough in Africa or the world over, they have an element of culture. Their styles, even the music videos, depict their culture. The same can be achieved if Malawi were culturally-conscious,” said Wambali.
In terms of management, director of Sunbird Sand Music Festival Lucius Banda described the 2015 edition, which was headlined by Busy Signal, as milestone. He says it set the foundation for future events.
“We have learnt a number lessons from the 2015 festival because the experience was both exciting and seemingly distant. But because of courage and determination we managed to invite Busy Signal who came over to Malawi. It was not an easy task for it took the courage of our team to achieve that,” says Lucius.
Networking with different people and partners was another factor which contributed to the success of 2015 Sunbird Sand Music Festival.
“In showbiz business, networking and collaboration is very important because in unity there is strength. You may recall that we had to set connections with colleagues from Zimbabwe to book Busy Signal. That’s what the power of networking among music players in the world can do,” says Banda.