Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf) has made itself a name among the top festivals in the country, having opened its chapter in 2009.
The annual event which takes place in the first week of October has made strides in its 10 years of existence to given a platform to both local and international artists.
The festival has made a name over the years, attracting Poetry Africa which is a renowned gathering of poets on the continent.
Poetry Africa’s participation in some of Baf’s outings has seen it bringing several poets from across world, including Jamaica’s dub poet Mutabaruka.
This is the festival which has over the years also earned the respect of the donor community, including German Embassy.
Since its inception, the festival has skipped a year without taking place due to inadequate funding.
Having done better over the years, bringing the best to the people including top acts such as Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, Mali’s Salif Keita and South Africa’s veteran gospel musician Rebecca Malope, the festival has however, lost direction in recent years.
It still exists but it has failed to utilise its strength to grow and be at par with top festivals across the world.
“To me, this is the festival which could have been competing with festivals such as MTN Bushfire and Sauti za Busara in all the departments but it still lacks a lot in terms of organisation. It has not really come out to establish proper departments to handle different departments,” a festival goer, Bob Tembo, said.
Tembo said he has been priviledged enough to see the festival and its experience since it started in 2009.
“Celebrating 10 years this year, I think the festival has done well especially in the early years but it needs to pull up its socks. If it can put in place a proper team with proper people to head different departments then I see it going far but for now it is still cold,” Tembo said.
The festival has changed venues at times, for instance in 2010, it was held at College of Medicine Complex in Blantyre but it has remained faithful through its walk by utilising Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC), formerly French Cultural Centre (FCC), as its home.
The venue, which was ransacked in 2011, is undergoing rehabilitation at the moment hence it has been difficult for some of the activities to run smoothly.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the festival decided to bring back the street carnival which has been missing and the carnival went according to the programme on Friday, starting off at Old Town in Blantyre to the venue.
Despite delaying to start which has been a syndrome for many festivals as regards time management, the street carnival created the best hype for Baf as people were alerted of the three-day event being headlined by local giants – Soldier Lucius Banda and Black Missionaries this year.
“We are happy that people have embraced the carnival once again. People were able to show the best of what will be on song at the three-day festival and again, people were able to keep fit just like is the 2019 theme Fit for Life,” Baf Executive Director, Thom Chibambo, said on Friday.
He said through the carnival, people were able to appreciate the beauty of promoting and preserving culture with showcases coming from Ngoni group from Ntcheu District, Kasama Arts from Zambia, Yoneco and Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe.
A Blantyre-based youthful group known as Power Mwee was also a centre of attraction during the carnival but also official opening.
Debuting at Baf, the group reminded people of the good old days when they brought vintage attire.
The members of the group were dressed in long dresses especially for women, which was a trademark dressing by women in past years.
People saw the suits that men used to wear in past years and again, people were also able to see uniforms that the police used to wear back then. In those years, the police used to put on shorts and not long trousers as is the case this time.
Festival goers were also able to appreciate some of the bags and briefcases that men and women used to carry to offices, just to differentiate with the present day.
During the official opening of the festival which was expected to end yesterday with a performance from reggae group Black Missionaries, Power Mwee staged a play showcasing how the wedding ceremony of yester years was conducted.
“This group has made my day, I never thought there would be a group that would be creative and bring to the stage such vintage attire. I am impressed and I hope they continue,” host of the event, Leleni said after introducing them.
Baf board chairperson, Alfred Msadala said during the official opening that it has been a long journey for the festival.
“Despite reaching this far, the sustainability of the festival is still wanting. The region still looks at us as mere Blantyre city entertainment outfit. We would like to correct it here. The festival is nationally recognised organisation with permanent slot on the calendar of the Department of Arts in the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture. It is an annual event,” Msadala said.
Apart from performances, the festival this year will also be engaged in workshops as part of sharing ideas but also networking.
The official opening, whose guest of honour was Blantyre City Deputy Mayor, Councillor Joseph Makwinja, also saw performances from students.
The opening was also patronised by the Ambassador of Germany to Malawi, Jurgen Borsch and Friends of Malawi representative Silvia Hesse.
Lilongwe-based all-female group The Daughters Band from Music Crossroads closed the curtain.