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Giving, taking: The labour of festivals

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BECOMING AN IN-THING — Festivals

There is this other feeling of deep contentment once a festival, be it for film or music, stirs one’s sense of pleasure into wakefulness.

And, of the many festivals that have been taking place in the country, the reverberations of Lake of Stars Festival, which can be said to have reached its crescendo stage, cannot be escaped.

Its organisers’ longing to let its name roll across the world like waves sparked by Mwera Winds must, surely, have been satisfied.

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Malawi has, for the past 20 years, hosted a number of arts festivals and entertainment events, among them the Lake of Stars, Chitsinda cha Ndakatulo, Land of Poets, Blantyre Arts Festival, the City of Stars, Sand Music Festival— all of which have, undoubtedly, contributed to the development of the arts in the country.

For one to appreciate the extent to which these arts festivals and events have contributed towards arts development in Malawi, they just have to look at the positive impact of the Lake of Stars Festival, which attracts patrons from within and without the country.

This means, apart from having fun, the country has been getting the much-needed foreign currency into the country, thereby contributing towards the economic development of Malawi.

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Apart from bringing foreign currency, these people, as well as local patrons, buy merchandise from curios sellers and fine artists, among others, who operate in these areas.

While it could be true that resources generated through these festivals and events, especially when they involve foreign patronage, are not enough, it is equally true that the foreign exchange that we get through such festivals trickles into the country quicker than financial assistance from development partners.

The other time, when Malawi hosted the City of Stars Festival, one of the interesting aspects about the event was the bringing together of local and international artists.

In the case of Sand Music Festival, foreign acts aside, local artists that are often overlooked during shows get their time in the sun of fame. For instance, while foreign acts invited to perform at City of Stars Festival were, rather, big names already, it has been refreshing to see organisers of Sand Music Festival include the likes of Joe Gwaladi and other artists who are often overlooked and given a cold shoulder on the list of performers.

Now, that is a true definition of developing the arts industry because established artists, budding artists and foreign artists are brought to the same stage.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to hear people such as Sand Music Festival director, Lucius Banda, saying that such events have gone a long way in uplifting the status of artists in the country as they, apart from getting exposure locally, learn from foreign artists who brush shoulders with them.

This is in addition to the fact that local artists who perform at these events also receive an appearance fee, thereby improving their economic status.

If the truth be told, Malawi is still far behind when it comes to the development of the arts.

Even Culture Minister Michael Usi has been acknowledging that a lot needs to be done to put artists where they belong; up there with renowned international artists.

The work is, really, cut out for him, considering that the country does not have many music schools.

The exceptions, when it comes to being visionary enough to think about establishing a music school, are Wyndham Chechamba— who, when he died three weeks ago, left Malawi with something important: A music school— and Alleluia Band, which has a school of music too.

Alleluia Band Leader Paul Subili puts this in context: “After we noted that there was a need for transition in our band, we established Andiamo Music School, which is aimed at teaching musicians how to play music instruments and music techniques. Some of the people we have trained in music are with us while others joined other bands.”

He says this has ensured the continued supply of talent to the band and other bands in the country.

“What I am saying is that transition in music cannot be done if there are no musìc schools. We need to constantly have the new generation learning music trends,” Subili said.

All the same, in a country where the importance of having music schools and other forms of art is yet to be appreciated, Malawians have no choice but to appreciate the role of events such as festivals.

The festivals, according to Gwaladi, do not only benefit patrons.

“What I learned when I performed at a festival was that the festival is a school of music in its own way. In my case, I heard the word Tonic Sofa for the first time there. Of course, I play the traditional guitar, which means what I do mostly flows naturally, but I know that if I can incorporate some of the things international artists who perform at festivals do, I can improve many things in my art,” he said.

This is what Madalitso Band, one of the traditional bands that have made a name in countries such as France, where they perform at festivals, has perfected.

Through Madalitso Band co-Manager Neil Nayah, the band puts a local feel to its international-standard performers.

“No wonder, Madalitso Band has become a darling to patrons wherever it performs,” he said.

This is the beauty of music, especially songs dished out at festivals, be it local or international. Patrons learn; performers learn.

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