Good people, the niceness of any venue does not lie in its vastness, but acoustics also matter.
This is one of the lessons from Crossroads Hotel’s Sapitwa Hall in Lilongwe where we witnessed an array of traditional dances by Malawi National Dance Troupe at an international forum which could not just wrap up without a something typical of Malawian culture.
It was Wednesday, the eve of the muted silver jubilee of the restoration of democracy in the country. Time check was 7.30-9.00pm in the dimly lit hall often partitioned by soft-coated towers that absorb sound to reduce echoes that annoyingly distort sound from loudspeakers.
On stage was an ensemble of civil servants which was trading as Kwacha Dance Troupe 25 years ago. Then, their act was entirely not just a cultural marvel but songs of praise and worship in honour of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, whose one-party rule Malawians discarded in the historic referendum on June 14 1993.
Before 1993, Kwacha was the symbol of the new dawn–the breakaway from British colonial rule–which saw the face of the national struggle for self-rule denature into a dictator whom the nation venerated as life president, lion, messiah and other superlatives.
Kwacha was the rising sun on the national flag which fallen president Bingu wa Mutharika and his Minister of Information Reckford Thotho–in concert with bribe-happy chiefs–replaced with a full sun when they had bizarrely realised that they had transformed Malawi beyond the imagination of poor and hungry Malawians.
Kwacha was the currency that remains in use to remind everyone of the glories of independence often attributed to one man–one Kamuzu.
Kwacha was half the name of a morning music programme which once woke up Malawians from slumber not just to go to work but to always remember Kamuzu was the destroyer of “the stupid federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland”, the father and founder of the nation.
Kwacha was the name of everything government sponsored to please the pint-sized dispot at the helm who lorded with a fly whisk in the other and an air of immortality in the other.
Kwacha was the slogan of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) which Malawians rejected in 1993 in preference for the lamp of multiparty politics seems to have flickered into nothingness over two decades on.
On Wednesday, we marvelled in the death of Kwacha as the renamed Malawi Dance Troupe brought to life the beauty of the dances from all thirds of Malawi.
But the more they tried to amplify the stunning songs to satisfy the audience from 45 nations globally, the worse the sound hit dry walls and bounced back to haunt the hearers struggling to figure out the message.
They played Ingoma and phone cameras flashed to catch a glimpse of the war dance of the Maseko Ngonis scattered across southern Malawi.
They played Malipenga from Nkhata Bay and Vimbuza from Rumphi and Mzimba, giving the visitors a slice of the cultures of the North.
They played mganda from central districts, with all those authentic moves, blowing instruments and schoolboy uniforms.
They played Likwata, which some director of ceremonies pronounced with a sticky tongue like newscasters who read Lilongwe as if they are swallowing 13 bitter pill, and no one knew that it was accompanied by a song of wisdom urging men not to change wives as a woman changes winnowing baskets when they wear out.
The music sometimes finds meaning in the message.
No amount of great dance steps can redeem good music marred by echoes in a roomy hall where it reverberates like a din slamming the walls of a bachelor’s unfurnished crib often derided as a football pitch.
Oh, how the sweetness of music suffers when the acoustics of the venue are not exactly musical!n