The entertainment industry in Mzuzu is taking a new direction with the opening of Squirrels Park. JOHN CHIRWA (JC) engages Squirrels managing director Keliophas Tobias (KT) on how he intends to uplift the creative sector in the city.
JC: Who is Keliophas Tobias?
KT: I am a businessperson with interest in the arts. I developed passion for the arts when I met musician Lucius Banda some years back. I have been close to him for many years. He is like my mentor. And gradually, I became more interested in the arts, especially when I was involved in acting. I have been featured in most of his videos as an actor. Some of these include Ndakonzeka, Wadwalika, Matamando and Sagona.
That has given me an urge to venture into various forms of arts such as film-making, music promotion and events management. But to achieve all this, I needed to come up with a professional performance venue. I do not need to struggle for venues when I want to hold an event.
JC: How has the response to the opening of the venue been?
KT: It has been a mixed bag. As you know, Mzuzu has been lacking spacious and standard venues for both night and afternoon performances. This venue has been built as a solution to such challenges. So, when we officially opened the venue with a performance by General Kanene, the response was overwhelming. It was one of the best patronised shows in Mzuzu. Both artists and patrons could not believe that Mzuzu has such a magnificent venue. Others went as far as describing it as one of the best venues they have seen in the country.
JC: Why did you threaten to close the venue after a fan destroyed property during one of your shows?
KT: Yes, that is true. The problem with that show is that patrons were mostly the youth. So, due to drunkenness, they ended up fighting and vandalising property. It was disappointing to note that with all the investment I made, someone would come for a show and end up vandalising property. But I have rescinded the decision. Instead, I have decided to strengthen security to make sure that no such practices happen again. What we will be doing is that if a person is caught vandalising property, they will pay for the destroyed property there and then.
JC: Why did you peg a show in October at K4 000 when the highest charge is usually K2 500?
KT: The reason is simple. We wanted to control patronage to the show. That was one of the best shows in Malawi because it was the first time for the Black Missionaries and Wailing Brothers to share the stage. So, we wanted the show to be decent, one where fans can come with their families. It was not a show for every Jim and Jack. We were afraid that if we reduced the charge, the venue would have been overcrowded which may have led to violence and discomfort among patrons.
JC: What do you have in store for Mzuzu in terms of entertainment?
KT: Fun seekers should prepare for frequent entertainment. We do not want people to miss entertainment here as it has been in the past. We will be holding one or two shows every month. Soon, we will start inviting international artists to perform in the city. We want fans here to sample international performances just as is the case in Blantyre and Lilongwe. And Mzuzu will soon become the hub of entertainment. That is our goal.
JC: How will you ensure your survival in the industry?
KT: It becomes tough to sustain event management if one does not have a venue. Venues are very expensive. As an events manager, the first thing to have is a venue. So, I will take advantage of the fact that I have a venue to host artists without spending money. Patronage is always there. What is needed is good advertising. You cannot advertise a show in a day or a week and expect massive patronage. A show needs advertising for at least a month so that people should get prepared. It is not good to take people for granted.
JC: Anything else to say?
KT: I encourage people to make use of Squirrels Park which is tailor-made for music performances, weddings, conventions, conferences and other events.n