Festivals are platforms which continue to play a pivotal role in among others displaying artists’ talents as well as boosting the tourism sector.
The country has been blessed with several festivals which take place in different places and these include Lake of Stars Festival which will be held at Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi from September 25-27 this year, Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) which takes place from October 2-5, Sunbird Sand Music Festival which has just announced that it has shifted the dates of its gathering from August to October and will be held at Sunbird Livingstonia in Salima.
The other festivals are Likoma Festival which last year was held in August but the organisers shifted the event to April this year and the Mwezi Wawala Festival spearheaded by Nanzikambe Arts which has just revealed that they will not be holding the festival this year in August.
There are also other cultural festivals which are organised by different organisations and the Land of Poets Festival which is set to be held next month in Blantyre and is organised by Poetry Association of Malawi (Pam).
Pam has already come out to bemoan the lack of funding towards the festival. But the poetry body says despite the challenge they are still going ahead with the festival.
Blantyre based theatre group Solomonic Peacocks which last year also held several performances through their partnership with German’s Fraulein Wunder, this year in April also debuted with their own theatre festival.
The festival which was held at Blantyre Cultural Centre saw several performances including Zambian comedians Bikiloni and Difikoti as well as locals Izeki ndi Jakobo but still more the organisers debuted with inadequate funding and it was even difficult for them to pay some of the artists in time.
The country can smile all the way of having several festivals on the ground at the moment but many continue to be haunted by shortage of funding.
Two years ago the Lake of Stars Festival which this year has made lots of progress creating the Lilongwe Shorts Film Festival and the Childrens Festival went on a break and although Founder Will Jameson said the two year absence was to do with reviewing their festival, the lack of funding affected them.
Many of the festivals in the country are operating on poor funding with many relying heavily on donors and this has seen many failing to operate effectively and end up coming out late.
While some international festivals come out early and start calling for artists in time, it has been a different story for festivals in the country except a few with many calling for artists when the dates are already closer.
Take for instance the Bushfire Festival, they would start calling for applications from artists this year for a festival which will be held next year. This shows proper organisation of the festival and its stability.
This is what has been lacking in many of the festivals in the country and some of them do not even have offices where they operate. Many of them would hold a festival a year and then will never be held until the hosting of the other festival.
But it is surely not their fault, many of them have tried but they do not have enough in their coffers and with lack of funding they are forced to call for applications for artists late let alone announcing the dates.
Musician Lucius Banda who spearheads Sunbird Sand Music Festival has always bemoaned the lack of support from the corporate world.
“We do it alone and the budget is not that huge, this is why we depend on our friends in the corporate world but they have not been forthcoming. There are companies out there who make it big when we hold our festivals but they do not want to support us. This is why we cannot call for applications in time let alone run festivals like our friends in other countries,” said Lucius.
The musician said as festival organisers they are ready to give people maximum entertainment through their events but was quick to say that they will only be successful if the corporate world comes forth.
He said he is optimistic that this year they will receive support from the corporate world and that having reviewed their previous festival; they have decided to change direction and focus on giving platform to local acts.
The government the past years also came up with its own festival known as Malawi Cultural Festival but it was only held once before dying out.
Sources in the Department of Culture which was spearheading the festival said the event is failing to make headway because of lack of funding.
This is also the situation with Mwezi Wawala Festival which was set to take place in August but Nanzikambe Arts Coordinator Misheck Mzumara said they do not have sufficient funds hence will not hold it this year.
“We are not holding Mwezi Wawala Festival this year because we do not have sufficient funds and funding to run the festival smoothly. We are at the moment seeking funding and planning for next year’s festival,” said Mzumara.
Nanzikambe Arts which moved from Naperi in Blantyre to Chimwankhunda also revealed that they haven’t yet started construction works for their new place.
“We have had our already burnt bricks stolen and due to funding which has also affected our festival we have not yet started construction,” said Mzumara.
“At the moment we have our office in The Oak House in Manja close to the land where we want to construct our new arts village. But funding is the biggest challenge and this is why we have had not many plays this year. We have downsized the number of actors involved in our plays, for instance we have had Sizwe Bansi is Dead, with only two actors, the same with Waiting for Godot,” he said.
Mzumara said they are working extremely hard to source for funding and that at the moment they are still working with their German partners Theatre Konstanz which has also played a part in funding for the Mwezi Wawala Festival.
“We would like to thank Theatre Konstanz for being there otherwise funding has really been difficult. The corporate world is not forthcoming. With Theatre Konstanz we are still able to tour Europe with two plays currently being performed in Germany; Animal Farm which has five actors involved,” said Mzumara.
He said despite the challenges they are still on the move touring with Sizwe Bansi is Dead now in the Northern region having already performed the play several times in the Southern and Central regions.
With all this said, festival organisers need to move out of the dependency syndrome and start digging deeper by raising its own funds through different other platforms otherwise they may end up experiencing challenges every year forcing them not to hold the events. This would in turn deny people of the much needed entertainment.
It is also high time festival organisers had proper visions for their festivals and put in place proper budgets to drive their events.