In October 2019, a group of young people from Chiringa in Phalombe District came together to form an artistic ensemble called Chiringa Arts Theatre (CAT).
United by their common purpose, the group, which comprises 50 members, embarked on a journey to leave a mark on the country’s art landscape. Faced by challenges, the membership of the group dropped to 30 comprising 11 girls and 19 boys.
From the journey that started in 2019, the group has produced its first film production Sungeni. The movie, which has a cast of 34 people, tells a story of a young girl, Sungeni, from a poor family who is in need of financial resources to sustain her academic pursuit.
Her desperate state eventually finds her seeking assistance from some organisation. After meeting one of the top bosses at the organisation, Sungeni finds herself in a dilemma as her prospective benefactor says he will only help her if she agrees to be in a relationship with him.
However, her story soon gets sour as she falls pregnant in the process, making it impossible for her to go on with her education.
Founder and director of CAT Foster Abraham in an interview with On The Arts said the group’s debut film production is doing well on the market and it has also met some favourable feedback and a huge demand for extra copies.
However, Abraham attributes the strides that the group has made to the establishment of the centre for performing arts in the district which also houses Anana Memorial Hall by one of the country’s literary greats Ken Lipenga.
The group was offered to use the space for free. Abraham says previously they had been facing challenges because they were meeting in open spaces which was hard to concentrate.
He said: “It was really hard without this space. During hot days or rainy days it was such a challenge to conduct our trainings. But the story is very different now and we are grateful for that.”
Lipenga, who constructed the centre in honour of his late mother on the eastern slopes of Michesi Mountain in the district, said he believes that given the opportunity, anyone can be great at something.
He said he has also always derived joy from working with young people and he thought the centre would give the youth from the area a chance to try out their different skills. He added that there is a lot of talent among youths in the rural areas.
“There is huge potential only that they never get the chance to discover it, develop it and benefit from it in some way. Our education system is more skewed towards passing examinations than encouraging creativity,” said Lipenga.
Apart from hosting CAT, the centre also caters for fashion, music performances from up-and-coming artists plus hosting traditional dances such as Soopa among other activities. Lipenga said he is delighted that the youth from the area are making use of the space.
He said: “I feel good encouraging these up and coming actors and directors. I have also invited local film director Charles Shemu Joyah to come and offer lessons and tips to these young artists. I am glad that he has accepted.”
On top of offering the space, Lipenga has been attending the group’s rehearsals in addition to offering technical support. He said he is planning to have a long-term marriage with the group where he can also be helping in developing scripts for their future productions.
“I hope I can also solicit support for their projects from both local and international well-wishers. The grand plan is to link what we are doing at the centre with the environmental work on the nearby mountain.
“I want to mobilise the youth to use their artistic skills to generate helpful conversations about the deforestation that is happening on this beautiful mountain as well as Mulanje Mountain,” he said.