In his soft-spoken voice, in Mandarin-accented English, Chinese Ambassador Zhen Qingyang said: “I want you to come and witness the Chinese magic. Africa may be known for its magicians, but I bet our own can also live up to the task.”
That was last week, at a press conference held at his residence ahead of the Chinese Spring Festival Gala.
Came Tuesday night, the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) attracted one of the highest attendance to a night public event, probably since it opened its doors some three years ago.
People from all walks of life within Lilongwe trekked to the facility’s auditorium for the festival; the first-ever Malawi has hosted for its Far East development partner.
And as the night wore on, almost all faces in the jam-packed 1 500-capacity auditorium wore a similar script of gratification of a night well spent.
But one thing that the gala managed to scribble in the minds of many a patron to the event was that culture is indeed diverse and the Chinese are always proud of their heritage.
And it did not need long for one to discover this. National anthems for the two countries marked the event’s official opening. The Chinese went out first. It was echoed across the whole auditorium as Chinese nationals in attendance sang along to the end. The same, however, cannot be said of its Malawian counterpart. The instrumental to the anthem had no company of any locals around; even from the numerous government officials in attendance. The Chinese were at home and they proudly showed their true colours.
But, being prayers, one would have expected Malawians to sing the loudest taking into consideration what the country has just gone through.
In his opening speech, Ambassador Zhen seemed to remind the patrons of this fact as he highlighted how his country has been touched by the recent flash floods that have seen about 200 deaths and left countless displaced.
But all said and done, this was an arts festival where nothing but fun were to reign the night. Sheer admiration between the two countries for each other’s culture was the overall feeling.
The Chinese, being the main players, paraded various performances that included the Dragon dance, acrobatics in pedalling skills and some Huihu (a traditional Chinese stringed music); much to the marvel of the onlookers.
They even demonstrated that what we see in their movies; all those, all those Ninja films, is not just a perfection of some software on the computer; it is real and practical. Their performers had rehearsed well before catching their plane.
There was even a surprise package near the end of the gala. A male soloist did a Chinese piece and as the majority of his compatriots—obviously from the language—cheered him on, the artists took everyone by surprise when he blended the piece with the Black Missionaries’ Mulomo.
What added glamour to it was that he roped in some locals to back him up and provide the numbers for the rhythm to actuate. Memories quickly flashed of that female Chinese artist who also performed the song at the BICC’s inauguration by former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, whose video became an instant hit.
Not to be outdone, Malawi threw in the Kwacha National Cultural Troupe who did some malipenga, beni and mganda. But it was the women’s gyrating in chitelera that stole the hearts of many as they were some standing ovations from both sets of the audience.
But as the gala wound, giving the performers a chance to retire ahead of a replica event scheduled for yesterday night in Blantyre, what remained in the minds of all who patronised the Lilongwe event was the puzzle that a certain Chinese performer showcased as his faces kept alternating in front of the crowd at his every move. Pure magic!