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Artists suffering, says Mum President

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FAITH — We need to hit the stage with utmost precaution

The year 2020 is not yet finished and although people continue to anticipate more, it is a lost year especially with Covid-19 pandemic hitting the world hard.

The pandemic continues to claim a lot of lives globally and to avoid its spread, a lot of countries, including Malawi, have put up strict precautionary measures, including ban on gatherings.

In the country, the ban on gatherings has affected several sectors including the creative industry and this has seen players cancelling most events.

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Several events that people look up to annually have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Last week, organisers of Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf) in their 11th edition this year, announced that they had cancelled the festival and that they were looking to next year.

The other groupings that have also cancelled their festivals include Nkhotakota Music and Easter Theatre.

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Spearheaded by Blantyre-based Solomonic Peacocks, Easter Theatre Festival was expected to be held in April but it was postponed before later announcing that they had cancelled.

“Even if things normalise now, we cannot manage to hold the festival this year, we need to plan and prepare especially contacting artists and that would not be possible. So for now, we are planning for next year,” Solomonic Peacocks Director McArthur Matukuta, said.

Legendary musician Soldier Lucius Banda, who is Advisor to President Lazarus Chakwera on Arts and Youth, said last month that people should strive to stay alive in 2020 and then plan for next year as regards different events.

He made the remarks following the rise of cases in the country.

But of late there has been a reduction in cases which has forced fans to starting calling for a return of some of the events.

Sand Music Festival, another top festival in the country which had not yet fully committed to cancelling the event, has come out with dates for its gathering set to take place in Salima District.

The festival, run by Impakt Events, has said it is praying that the situation normalises, having set up dates of October 30 to November 1 2020.

“We are just praying that by that time everything should be fine and that the government will have loosened some of the restrictions otherwise the cases have gone down and we hope it will be like that,” Operations Director Johnny Zembani Banda, son to Lucius, said.

Having announced the dates through Lucius’ Facebook page, many followers said they were looking forward to the festival.

“I think we need events now, cases have gone down, let the festival come,” most of the fans said.

Johnny said they used his father’s platform to get the views because he (Lucius) has a larger following.

Some event organisers have also come out, including Summer Ship Cruise, to announce their come back.

Lilongwe-based musician Lulu, said the government needs to give them a go ahead to start holding shows and that for now they can do it with strict measures.

“Schools, colleges and universities have re-opened and yet we are not being told anything as the creative sector. We believe we also need to be allowed to host shows. As musicians or artists, we are suffering, we have been out of the stage for more than five months now and no-one cares where we are getting money to support our families,” Lulu said.

He said with schools, colleges and universities opening, students would need to be supported with fees among others.

“There are artists, who solely rely on this art to make money and how then do they support their children who are now going to school? Something needs to happen, we need to be considered,” the ‘Nz’alera’ star said.

In June this year, a group of musicians defied government order and resumed shows, having been on a long break before they decided to go back after the rising of cases.

Lucius also admitted that artists have suffered long enough and that they were looking forward to the government loosening up on the restrictions.

The creative industry, just like sports, is also looking forward to the government opening up.

However, unlike the sports sector where players among others, are receiving bailout packages as they wait for resumption of sports, the creative sector has no bailout packages.

The situation has even been made difficult for them in the absence of the Arts Council which they have been lobbying for years.

Musicians Union of Malawi (Mum) President Gloria Manong’a, said artists were suffering in the country and that there has not been any bailout plan.

“Our friends outside the country have been supported with bailout packages but here it is a different story. This is why artists want to return to the stage, especially with the current situation where the cases have gone down,” Manong’a said.

She then said that those artists who have made plans to go back to the stage needed to do it with caution.

“Let us also not put ourselves at risk as well as put our fans at risk. We need to play it safe, much as we are suffering. When going back to the stage to hold shows, let us see to it that we follow precautionary measures given by Ministry of Health,” he said.

Manong’a said they welcomed the government’s introduction of the Artists Welfare Fund, which saw Malawi Gaming and Lotteries Board pumping in K16 million.

“ But despite this, artists are still suffering and if the government still wants the creative sector to remain as it is without holding events, then there has to be bailout packages,” she said.

Musician Faith Mussa, who has missed out on a number of international festivals, said the situation was tough for the creative industry.

“It’s tough, artists are failing to make ends meet because they cannot hold shows but we need to hit the stage with utmost precaution and look at safety first. As much as we want life to get back to normal, safety should be put first,” the ‘Mdidi’ star, said.

Faith is one of the artists who during this period has embraced online platforms to reach out to the fans although he has been quick to say that online platforms cannot replace live shows.

“Online performances are just there for us to remain active and get to connect with fans out there and they are not that better than live acts where you get to connect with fans directly,” he said.

Renowned musician Erik Paliani, said recently that doing art in the country was hard and that many of them were pushing things on their own because of passion.

Recently the media in United Kingdom reported that there was the first socially distanced gig that took place in Newcastle.

“There is need to come up with plans and not just restrictions and that is what we call leadership,” Paliani said.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Michael Usi, who is also an artist, has on a number of occasions assured the creative sector that he would do his best to propel arts.

It remains to be seen as to whether the government will loosen some of the restrictions for the creative sector to start its operations.

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