2017: A year of festivals


2017 will go down as the year the country had a feel of a number of festivals.

Of course, the year was not without surprises, as the Lake of Stars Festival took a break, having returned to its original home at Chintheche Inn in Nkhata Bay in 2016.

That aside, the year saw the return of the Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf) which did not take place in 2016.


There were fears from some quarters that the festival would not come back, after organisers announced that it did not have funding.

Funding has been cited as one of the challenges facing festival organisers.

However, thanks to sponsors such as the Royal Norwegian Embassy, who have always played a crucial role in supporting the creative industry in the country, the creative industry has not been completely abandoned.


Through the Cultural Fund Malawi, which is spearheaded by Hivos and funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, several artists have benefited.

Expectations were high that Baf, would do much more, having been on a one-year hiatus, but the festival failed to deliver, especially at the main venue, which was Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC).

Organisers seemed unprepared. Just imagine, starting with the opening day, the organisers failed to plan for power outages.

And, for that, they paid dearly. During the reception, people, including Germany Ambassador to Malawi Juergen Borsch, were kept waiting for light when a blackout disrupted activities.

Organisers, led by Baf Executive Director Thom Chibambo, were supposed to plan well for this because they were aware of the problem of power outages.

This showed lack of seriousness on the part of the organisers, especially because the festival, which started in 2009, was supposed to lead the way in terms of how things should be done.

This year, the festival decided to run away from having an international headliner. Instead, reggae group Black Missionaries took the role of headliner.

Despite scoring miserably on preparations, the festival, which takes place in October annually, brought some exciting activities on the ground that entertained people.

Running with two venues, one at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) and BCC, which was the main venue, JCC stood out as the best in terms of organisation although there were delays in some instances.

There were concerns on the improvised stage at BCC, which was not in good shape.

The organisers decided to run away from using the amphitheatre, which would have been more convenient.

The carnival, which always opens the festival, did not take place this year and this, again, can be attributed to poor planning.

Baf has potential and has stood the test of time as the only vibrant festival that takes place in Blantyre.

But, despite being there for years, it is still stagnant and is failing to grow.

By now, the festival could have been generating its own funds and even running other activities before the main event.

The festival has a long way to go if it has to stand out and continue to be counted and, next year, it needs to do much better.

Apart from the last day, when the headliners Black Missionaries were performing, the festival failed to attract good audiences on other days.

The other festival that the country hosted this year is the Sand Music Festival, which was held at Sunbird Livingstonia in Salima.

The festival came barely a month after the venue also hosted the Sound and Light concert organised by Entertainers Promotions.

Unlike last year, when the festival failed to leave up to its billing, there was an improvement this year in terms of organisation.

The festival gave people a treat for their money, bringing a variety of activities.

Perhaps the only setback was that the international headliner, Congolese star Awilo Longomba, failed to give a razor-sharp performance.

Awilo left people disappointed during the festival. He was, actually, booed before he went off stage.

Sand Music Festival has also been in existence for some time now. It also needs to do better next year.

The festival has managed to attract high profile acts, having raised its bar when it brought Jamaican star Busy Signal in 2015.

Nevertheless, most of the festivals in the country score lowly, in terms of preparations, as most of them do not have clear direction.

Sand Music Festival, too, has a long way to go if it has to be counted among the top festivals in Africa. To do that, it needs to make its presence felt by not only concentrating on the main festival but putting in place programmes that would keep them active throughout.

This year, Land of Poets, which happens in July every year in Blantyre and is run by Poetry Association of Malawi (Pam), failed to take place due to funding.

Pam President, Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa, said they had tried their best by sending proposals for funding but things did not work out.

He, however, said, despite Land of Poets failing to take place this year, they are hopeful that they would come back next year.

However, poets still had something to show their talents when they participated in the inaugural Warm Heart Poetry Festival, which was held at Blantyre Cultural Centre early this month.

The festival received support from, among others, Bayete Naturals which has since promised that it would be there next year.

The festival, through Bayete Naturals, honoured veteran poet and writer Alfred Msadala with the Lifetime Achiever Award.

“I am happy to have been honoured. I didn’t see this coming. I would like to commend them for this,” Msadala said.

Organisers of the festival, led by poet Sylvester Kalizang’oma, have since indicated that they will be holding the festival in July.

This would mean the festival clashing with Land of Poets.

The two parties need to sit down and work on the dates; otherwise, it would not be healthy for the poetry family.

The other festival that took place this year was the Ovation Fusion, which was held at Bingu International Convention Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe.

The premier food and music festival has also shown it has potential to grow into a better platform, looking at the activities which were on the ground this year.

The festival was headlined by, among others, South Africa’s artist Cassper Nyovest and Zambia’s South Africa-based artist Caitlin de ville.

People had time to experience a Bake-off challenge for the first time as bakers showed their baking skills live.

It was the second time for the festival to be held in the country and, this year, they managed to attract a good audience compared to last year.

The festival is still in its infancy but the organisers seem to know what they are doing. They just need to stick to their activities— by focusing on food and music— because that is what makes them unique.

This year, the country also experienced the Tumaini Festival, which takes place at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa, in November.

This is a free festival which has been making strides.

A lot of activities took place this year on different stages and, led by founder Menes la Plume, the festival stood out once again this year.

The organisation was on point and the other festivals can surely borrow a leaf from them.

Going to 2018, people will be hoping that these festivals will be there once again to provide the much needed fun and entertainment while, at the same time, coming up with more goodies.

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