Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) finally took place last weekend from Friday through to Sunday at Blantyre Cultural Centre.
The festival which has turned out to be one of the key events every year and is followed by many Malawians was this year taking place under the theme ‘Arts Can Do It.’
The festival started with pomp on Friday featuring a carnival from Blantyre Old Town Hall to Civic Centre in the morning before the official opening ceremony by the Minister of Sports and Culture Grace Chiumia later in the afternoon.
The carnival was well organised with support from FMB Bank which pumped in over K2 million ahead of the event.
Students from different schools, some BAF officials and artists particularly those from the Visual Arts Association of Malawi (Vaam) among others participated in the carnival.
Through the carnival students showed some of the activities which were set to take place during the festival.
However, the organisers failed to put together posters to distribute to people as some kept on asking what was happening and although some were told of the main purpose, the carnival did not reach out to all people.
This was one of the powerful tools of marketing the festival but the organisers simply missed out and again communication breakdown nearly killed the tempo of the carnival.
The carnival went all the way to Civic Centre where according to the programme, the Mayor of the City of Blantyre Noel Chalamanda was supposed to make welcome remarks but it turned out to be a different story.
With BAF officials no-where to be seen, people who were on the carnival ended up hitting a blank wall at Civic Centre where they were told that there was a change of programme and that the Mayor was not going to welcome them.
BAF Executive Director Thom Chibambo said later that there was communication breakdown but the way things went showed that there was no team work and commitment from the organisers.
The carnival was supposed to be coordinated from the start up to finish.
All the same, the people on the carnival later made way to the Blantyre Cultural Centre where students showcased different activities.
“The carnival started well and it was all colourful attracting interest from people in Blantyre but its ending was dis-organised. They need to be serious and be organised from the word go otherwise we were stranded at Civic Centre and there was no-one to explain until later on,” said one artist.
This year, the organisers decided to take a different direction and with support from Mibawa which supplied equipment, another stage was created closer to the entrance which was the main stage with the amphitheatre which has always been used as the main stage in the past years being used for other activities like poetry and theatre.
The official opening by the minister and the presence of the Mayor of the City of Blantyre added value to the event and indicated that the festival has their blessings.
The minister and the Mayor even hailed the organisers for the festival saying this was an important gathering for among others displaying the country’s culture but also bringing people together.
“I am so excited with the performances I have seen and I have been impressed by the performances by the students. Malawi is rich in culture. I have also been impressed by the exhibitions by visual artists,” said Chiumia.
The minister toured the Blantyre Cultural Centre earlier before opening the festival and she said she was disappointed with the state of the once mighty entertainment centre which was ransacked by thieves soon after the French government closed the place.
The government bought the centre at K300 million but it failed to play a fast one to safeguard the centre which was left without security.
The government showed its lack of seriousness on the centre and did not give it urgent attention hence being ransacked and up to now the government still lacks seriousness in managing the place.
Several arts associations have come up to ask the government to turn the place into a hub of arts activities but the rehabilitation has been moving at a snail’s pace.
The place is still in pathetic state and yet it keeps on hosting important events like BAF.
“I am disappointed with the pathetic state of this place, the government is losing out on making money but I can assure you that this government will put this place back into its shape,” said Chiumia.
But Chiumia need’s to be reminded that the previous ministers also found the Blantyre Cultural Centre formerly French Cultural Centre in this pathetic state and they made promises as well to rehabilitate the place as soon as possible.
Artists are still waiting for those promises and although the amphitheatre was rehabilitated, the place still remains in a pathetic state and this includes the classrooms where people used to learn French and Chichewa lessons.
Chalamanda as the Mayor of the City of Blantyre also said he was disappointed with the state of the centre and revealed that they are in the process of engaging the government to have the place put back into shape.
Enough of the centre and back to BAF which came barely a week after people experienced the Lake of Stars Festival held at Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi.
The festival organisers have always done well involving different schools to participate and showcase their talents which usually take place in the opening day.
The students once again this year showcased different activities from poetry to drama to dances and traditional dances. But there is more that needs to be done by the schools for students to come out and expose their talents.
This year, according to BAF Public Relations Manager Emmanuel Mwanyongo, more schools participated.
After the children’s activities on Friday, came the main activities from the professional artists and these included Black Syndicate, The Great Grandpot and Black Missionaries.
However, some of the performances did not take place and the organisers failed to manage time as for instance Black Missionaries which was supposed to start performing around 8:30pm only came to the stage close to midnight.
The issue of time management was not only on the first day but all the three days and this also saw South Africa’s Rebecca Malope jumping on stage way around past 9pm.
The organisers did well having a variety of artists this year as well as bringing Malope as one of the international artists but the programming was poor.
The poor programming ended up affecting the turnout and this was witnessed on Sunday when Zimbabwe’s Munya, who offered the best performance, locals Waliko Makhala and Agorosso were placed on the last day.
“I have always wondered why BAF does not attract more people during its three-day festival and this mainly has hitched on programming and marketing. For instance people here have got used that gospel performances always fall on a Sunday. They could have placed Rebecca Malope and other gospel artists on a Sunday and not have them on a Saturday,” said one fan.
There were also prolonged sound checks during the festival which kept on delaying proceedings and this frustrated some people who could not partake of this and instead left. This went on until Sunday the last day of the festival.
“To me this festival has potential to grow but only if they work as a team for now there is no team work. They need to have a proper team to handle different areas and in that way they will move forward. I know with the economy biting it’s difficult to involve more people but sometimes you sacrifice,” said a Germany volunteer, who offered his expertise for both BAF and Lake of Stars Festivals this year.
He said having been part of festivals outside the country, he observed that BAF can grow and become bigger but only if there is a proper team working.
“There were only a few people running around and a few people showing commitment. A festival needs people to work as a team and not in isolation and you need to have different sections with a team say handling artists, a team working on different stages, a team working on projects and so forth and so on,” said the volunteer.
Mwanyongo, while admitting that there were gaps in the festival which they need to improve on, he said the festival was a success this year in that they managed to hold 90 percent of the activities.
The organisers also indicated that there were going to be events such as fashion show and film screenings but these did not take place.
During the opening day, Chalamanda also said that BAF has potential to propel Blantyre City and hinted that they would be signing an agreement with the organisers to work together.
This is a good move as BAF needs more heads if it has to bring out the best to the people.
“This festival needs not to be happening only in October for three days then forgotten but it has to be involved in other activities throughout the year and I hope through this agreement we will work on those modalities,” said Chalamanda.
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