By Sam Banda Jnr:
A festival is not a small gathering. A festival is not a show; this is why organisers have to take their time, putting things together, because it is not a one-off thing.
For a show, organisers can just wake up and plan it in a day and then go straight to holding it on any weekend.
But a festival demands that organisers spend sleepless nights putting it together because it is normally a package that has a lot in it.
A festival is not organised by one person, it requires team work as people have to give each other roles and that includes one who manages artists, stage managers and other important areas.
Forde Traditional and World Music Festival in Norway started on a small note but, today, it is bigger and, every year, people embrace it.
Every year people in Forde, which is a small town, make sure that they start preparations for the festival in July and they make sure not to miss it because it brings the best of artists from all over the world.
It is a festival they own and, every time it takes place, Forde comes to a standstill.
This is what takes us to the issue of our very own Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf). Baf takes place annually in the country in the first week of the month of October.
The 2018 festival started on October 5 and ended on October 7 .
This is a festival which started in 2009 and has journeyed until today, giving people the much needed entertainment.
It is a festival that has hosted well-known acts such as Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, Mali’s Salif Keita and Jamaica’s Mutabaruka, who came courtesy of Poetry Africa.
The past years were simply amazing for the festival, which used to attract huge audiences.
Memories are still fresh when BCC, formerly French Cultural Centre, was full to capacity when the festival hosted Mutabaruka.
The festival has scored a mark that it continues to run but it is still making baby steps instead of giant footsteps of an adult.
Opened by Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Grace Chiumia, the minister has to be commended because she made it to the venue in good time, firstly in the morning when students from primary and secondary schools were holding performances.
Chiumia was expected to officially open the festival in the evening but she came in the morning and toured the venue to the surprise of many people.
Even Baf Executive Director Thom Chibambo was taken unawares when he met the minister because, to him, she came earlier.
But this is what ministers have to learn; sometimes, one should take time out to patronise festivals or events without even being invited.
Chiumia was able to see some of the things she may not have observed if she only came during the official opening.
Her morning visit saw her interacting with a few people who had put up stalls in the market zone.
This is where she even noticed that there were a few people and yet this was a festival worth bringing Blantyre to a standstill.
Chiumia later bemoaned the poor turnout during the official opening, which was dominated by members from Hannover City in Germany led by Mayor Thomas Hermann.
The team from Hannover, which included Silvia Hesse of the Friends Circle Malawi, might have even been surprised as to why the official opening had a low patronage.
“We needed to have more people patronising the festival. All in all, I am happy to launch the 2018 festival and I have been impressed with the performances. We, as the government, will continue to support festivals,” Chiumia said.
The minister, who took time out to join musician Princess Chitsulo and Germany group Makatumbe during the official opening, said the government would remain in the forefront in the development and promotion of the arts, both in terms of policy guidance and programme implementation.
“Government cannot do much, hence the need for concerted efforts between the government and other players,” she said.
The festival simply failed to leave up to its billing this year and has a long way to go, in terms of bringing out the best.
Baf should do more and offer the best and even conquer Blantyre. It needs to create a platform where residents of Blantyre will come to a point where they will own the festival.
“For me this festival has potential but the organisers simply do not do enough to market it and again there are a few people working on it. You need a team that will give each other roles in all the areas,” an artist, who did not want to be named, said.
Veteran gospel musician Ethel Kamwendo Banda, who performed at the festival on the last day sharing the stage with reggae group Black Missionaries, also shared the same sentiments that Baf has done well in the past years attracting better audiences but now it has lost its touch.
“We appreciate the work that the organisers have done and for me this is a very good festival. I think they just need to do more in terms of marketing because you cannot have such a festival with a low patronage,” Kamwendo Banda said.
The festival has potential in that it is the only one which takes place in Blantyre in October and since it started has maintained the dates.
Baf has also been unique in that it gives a chance to students to showcase their talents.
“Most of the festivals in the country do not have a space for children or students but Baf has that element which is good. I actually loved the performances from the students because you give them confidence,” Ethel Tambala, a fan said.
During the students’ performances, the audience also had time to watch a performance from students with disabilities.
The festival needs to put its house in order where it should start planning in time and also look at other ways of generating income.
Many festivals are struggling in these tough economic times and it is also time to not only rely heavily on donors.
Chibambo while admitting that they did not do enough in terms of marketing the festival this year said they received funding late hence failing to put up other programmes.
“Next year we will do better in our market but with all that said, we are happy with the way things have gone. The festival has been a success because all what we planned on the programme took place. Again we have also been consistent since we started in 2009,” Chibambo said.