Great Hall: 40 years of inspiring the arts in Malawi
The first question some people ask when they visit the old Capital city, Zomba, for the first time is; “Where is Chanco?” — this to mean the location of the University of Malawi (Unima), formerly known as Chancellor College (Chanco).
The university is well known for, among other things, its unique structures, most of which were completed in 1979.
However old, the structures look impressive today, wonder works of design and architecture.
One of the most distinctive features at Chanco is the magnificent the Great Hall.
Here is an edifice that never gets out of fashion.
It is a hall with different types of lights. It has some10 entry points. But there are two main entrances, with some of the eight leading to the upper section while another set leads to the stage and dressing rooms.
As the university describes it, the Great Hall is a multi-purpose building.
An imposing octagonal-shaped construction, it stands tall at the Fine and Performing Arts Department and exhibits modern European architecture, Unima says about the hall on its website https://www.unima.ac.mw/great-hall
“The interior design is a testament to architectural versatility: depending on the presentation, conference, drama/play, finale’s dinner, graduation ceremony, lecture, wedding and other event that will be taking place in the hall; rostrums which are extra designing blocks; chair rearrangements, a drop down white board, and runaway can be added to complement the function,” reads the profile of the hall.
It further says the acoustic and lighting design in the Great Hall also makes it ideal for concerts and performances. The long stage gives way to wings that open up when the hall serves as an exam space, and also open to a piano room and little theatre for smaller functions.
“The Great Hall is rightfully named as it may be used and booked for many purposes. More importantly it is evidence of the bold, diverse and cultural confidence of University of Malawi as the only liberal arts college in Malawi,” reads the profile.
It took three years to build and on December, 11 1982, Malawi’s first leader, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, opened the Great Hall.
Big enough, its capacity reaches over 2,000.
Beyond it being an infrastructure of an academic institution, the Great Hall has been key in shaping the arts industry in Malawi.
According to one of the artists in the music industry, Avokado, who graduated in Bachelor of Education Languages, the hall is of the best structures he has ever performed in. He describes it as the birthplace of his career in music.
“Performing in the Great Hall has been fire! That was when I got exposed to the world. So, the Great Hall, is the birthplace of my career,” he says.
Robert Chiwamba walked out of the university in 2014 as a refined poet.
He says his vision of recording poems was borne out of the Great Hall.
“This is a very important place in my career. This is really a great platform, where my career grew. My fellow students welcomed me into the world poetry in that place. That was beginning of Malawians in general welcoming me,” he says.
Chiwamba says he will never forget the Great Hall in his poetry career.
“It is a place where, when you perform badly, it rejects you. It has a very big capacity. If you perform well you enjoy the audience’s feedback,” he says.
Being a great hall, the Great Hall has hosted numerous events of all kinds in its life – secular, spiritual and arts and entertainment.
Unima Director (formerly called Dean) of Arts and Humanities, Mufunanji Magalasi, says the hall has hosted hundreds of arts events in the past 40 years.
“There have been performances by the Chancellor College Travelling Theater. There have been arts festivals and performances of bands like Allan Namoko and Chimvu River Jazz Band, Bale Paseli. These would be attached to the Choral Workshop which Prof. Mitch Strumpf organized. Then later it would be student performances in theatre music,” he said.
The hall has played host to Miss Gettoh event, a crowd puller event that saw Abigail Kamaliza taking the crown.
Actor Chancy Mauluka once brought a play in the Great Hall.
On Saturday, September 18, 2021, musicians Tay Grin and Patience Namadingo, who have lately engaged an extra gear in working together, brightened Unima’s Social Weekend in the old Capital.
The two artists left no stone unturned and won the hearts of people with their performances.
Tay Grin and Namadingo shared the stage and performed for close to an hour.
Apart from Tay Grin and Namadingo, the event also got a share of performances from Phyzix, Janta, Eli Njuchi Miracle Chinga, Henry Czar and Zomba based Nyanesi.
In March 2019, reggae outfit Black Missionaries, widely known as Ma Blacks, also enjoyed performance and maintained their impressive live sets when they conquered Unima’s Great Hall during a social weekend.
It is definitely clear that the hall has inspired and moulded generations of musicians, poets and actors.
There is no question that the ‘Great Hall’ will continue drive the arts in the country.