The Sunbird Sand Festival came to a slow start on Friday but quickly morphed into truly a beach music party as it entered the second day on Sunday.
The festival, born at Zitherepano Pub in 2010, started with the tall order to fill the gap left by the internationally acclaimed Lake of Stars Arts Festival. However, the three days were purely a music experience, falling short of the poetry, drama, acrobatics and international acts that made LOS the ultimate of Malawiâ€™s beach entertainment culture.
When the vibe fades, people will remember the fair on the sands of Lake Malawi as a hint at the future of music tourism with or without Lake of Stars.
Yet all this was evident in the performance spaces that were happening and idle. Organisers had put in place three stages, but only the main stage was active.
Silence was loud and clear on the rest of the stagesâ€”the small one by the lake and another a round affair in the middle of the food zone.
This was a spontaneous act of getting patrons to watch the same act at the same time, but it left interludes of dullness as the main stage usually breathed to life after 4pm, something that left people with nothing to do except swimming, sun-bathing and drinking.
The tightness of the schedule, featuring the best of Malawiâ€™s music, left no space for the talk about charity and community tours the size that formed LOS marketing spine.
Yet, the Sand Music Fest was blessed with corporate sponsors such as National Bank and Airtel, who recently signed Piksy as their brand ambassador. It was quite a spectacle to see the rhymster and urban music starsâ€”Dan Lu, Armstrong, Diktator, Young Kay and Black Jackâ€”using the same stage as regular performers Skeffa Chimoto, Black Missionaries, Alleluya Band, Limbani Banda, Moses Makawa and Katelere Chingâ€™oma.
Elsewhere, the food and business stalls elected for fun-seekersâ€™ convenience were deserted.
In an interview, festival director Lucius Banda said he was happy to see the event grow from a mere show at Zitherepano three years ago to the four-day festival at the vast sand spread of Sunbird Nkopola.
â€œIt is the first time we are organising an event this size. We would have loved to have more people and sponsors on the festival grounds, but those that turned out were happy. Nobody is complaining, they are just having fun,â€ said Soldier on Sunday.
He admitted that the parallel festival, Moon-Rock in Nkhata Bay, and the mid-month financial dry-outs might have affected the attendance. He promised that his team may consider rescheduling it from the Motherâ€™s Day holiday to a better period so that it does not clash with any other festival or find people cash strapped.
Sunbird marketing officer Daniel Tambala said so enlightening was the inaugural Sand Fest at Nkopola that they were already planning to have two festivals next year.
â€œComparing this festival with Lake of Stars is like comparing tomatoes with apples. We are happy with the patronage and response from the sponsors. Preparations for the next festival will start as early as February to ensure people get the best of the hospitality Sunbird is known for,â€ said Tambala.
Equally enthused was Chimoto and Makawa. They reckon Sunbird has the potential to host a festival like LOS, because its success depends on the glittering waters of Lake Malawi.
â€œPeople knew they were not coming for Lake of Stars, but Sand Music Festival. The few that came were eager to jive with us and we know they will tell it to the world that we had fun.
â€œItâ€™s the lake that made Lake of Stars successful. Sand Fest is like a kid; it will grow big. We hope.â€
Makawa was thankful to the organisers for giving emerging artists an opportunity to learn from a-list veterans. Interestingly, Agorosso and Stanley Mthenga were engaged in a special jive mirroring the diversity of sounds from the Lower Shire Valley.
Mthenga thanked the organisers for including him and other unsung voices on the playlist after he criticised local fiestas of featuring the same cast and risk becoming mobile gigs.