The annual Lake of Stars Festival which attracted over 80 acts from over 10 countries finally took place at Sunbird Nkopola in Mangochi last weekend pulling together about 4,500 people according to the organisers.
Having attracted 4,200 people last year following a two year break, the festival improve attendance with 300 people this year and according to its founder Will Jameson, the 4,500 people included 2,400 paying customers while the other figure comprised of the media and artists.
Several people expressed mixed views this year’s festival with some saying it lacked the much needed pomp while others said the festival maintained its status.
While people shared mixed views over the Lake of Stars, the festival still remains the best in the country when it comes to organisation.
The organisers have kept the festival strong and compact sharing roles which have seen them excelling in almost all areas and that include bringing in all the artists billed to perform.
“People have always argued that this festival is dominated by foreigners and that it is expensive when it comes to entry fee but the efforts they put in organising the event is worth paying more money. To me they have never disappointed, all the artists they put on the line-up including international acts show up, they have never lied,” said one of the fans Kenneth Phiri.
Another fan who only described himself as Bob and is from Germany said the festival has always done its best every year and given people the much needed entertainment hence winning the hearts of many.
“This is not my first time to come to this festival, I have been to this great festival for more than six times and I enjoy it. I normally save money for this festival, last year I came with my family but this year I have come alone. I am satisfied with the festival this year and I am going back satisfied and I will be here again next year,” he said.
The festival’s strength has particularly hinged on the sharing of roles which has seen different people handling different tasks unlike other festivals in the country where one takes so many responsibilities.
“For instance these festival organisers have people who only handle artists, some work on accommodation and several other areas and this keep things in order. Of course I would say they slackened abit this year especially on entry where there were no proper indications compared to the past years and people struggled but all in all things were good,” said Henry Tembo, who has also been patronising the festival with his family for years.
This year the festival’s organisers changed the set-up of the beach stage and gave it a new look which was exciting to many people and this time around named the Airtel Beach stage in aid of the sponsors Airtel Malawi, this proved to be one of the best platforms in terms of sound.
There was also the main stage which again was well decorated giving it a new look but the sound on this stage was affected by the loose connections no wonder some artists were not well appreciated by the audience.
While the past years has seen the organisers flying in equipment from UK, the organisers used local equipment from Mibawa proving that the country has what it takes to host international festivals.
The only biggest concern which came from the audience was the loose connections which affected the sound.
The organisers also did well on the part of maintaining all the three stages active throughout the festival and they scored marks by holding a free concert last Thursday for the community.
“We are happy to have reached out to the community with a free community concert which attracted 1,500 Chipoka residents. It is not easy to put up a free show during a festival but we managed it,” said Jameson.
This year also saw the organisers becoming flexible on the part of international acts who interacted with local artists unlike.
Prior to this year’s Festival, the organisers of Lake of Stars engaged themselves into several projects and worked with others showing that they are here to promote the creative industry and not compete.
“The problem with some of our local festivals is that they do things to compete, festivals are there to boost among others tourism.
And actually festival organisers can even share personnel and learn from each other and in that way we are assured of growth but if we keep on doing things for competition, Lake of Stars will always be on top,” said one of the arts journalists.
Before the Lake of Stars Festival, the organisers held the Lilongwe Shorts Film and Children’s festivals, island in the Sky Concert and helped in other projects.
There have been outcries from local artists that they are paid less money compared to foreign artists but Jameson, who described this year’s event as amazing as it included new artists, said for them all artists’ fees are researched and that fees paid are in line.
“All artists’ fees are researched and fees paid are in line and often above what artists normally get. For instance Lucius Banda actually got more than Nigeria’s Ric Hassani and same as South Africa’s Toya Delazy while Young Fathers from Scotland performed for free,” said Jameson.
There also seems to be disorganisation on the part of local artists who simply have a long way to go in terms of understanding the issues to do with contracts.
“There were cases where local artists argued with organisers as regards to issues of accommodation and other things but all this came because local artists failed to understand contracts.
Something needs to be done on issues to do with contracts otherwise many local artists will keep on complaining every time and yet it’s their own problem,” said MultiChoice Malawi Sales and Marketing Manager Chimwemwe Nyirenda.
He noted that the organisers had no problems with foreign artists because they understood their contracts but it was a challenge for local artists.
The organisers of the festival however, need to revisit their criteria of selecting artists performing at the event as others ended up disappointing the audience.
“Much as the festival is there to expose artists, artists need to earn a place at a festival. The organisers need to pick the best for the festival, pick artists who are doing well and this will bring out the best. Artists need to fight for space at the festival and not just be picked because they have officials who they know,” said a fan Gospel Paipi.
He observed that there are artists who have been performing at the festival for years and yet they have been dormant.
“At such a festival people deserve to see the best, they can be new artists but they should be the best. There are artists who did not deserve to be on the main stage, there are also artists who deserved to be on the main stage but they were instead relegated to other stages,” he said.
Some quarters also observed that the organisers of the Lake of Stars need to categorise performances as regards the genres they perform.
“For instance there are artists whose performances do not demand dancing while artists like South Africa’s Uhuru, one need to dance but you cannot put them together with say Agorosso. So next time let them categorise so that people enjoy them better,” said Paipi.
While many arts journalists have not been recognised in the country for promoting the creative industry, Lake of Stars Festival decided to add the media awards which are given out during the festival and this started last year. They have simply scored marks on this event.
This year saw journalists like Geoffrey Kapusa of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) being recognised. Kapusa has played a bigger role in promoting artists in the country through the popular Music Splash programme which is still running.
This year once again music dominated proceedings at the festival although people also had a chance to watch a vagina monologues production by Blackmoore, theatre by Mwezi Arts Children’s Theatre and fashion show.
“I think for this to be a more exciting festival, they also need to add other activities, we had kung-fu by Amitofo among others but there also need to be games which people can enjoy prior to the performances. In the past years we have had this,” said Phiri.
The Lake of Stars which was officially opened by Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango also scored marks engaging itself in several outreach programmes aimed at growing the community.
They may not have done much as part of their corporate social responsibility but this year they admitted that they have a lot to do and this year’s programme saw an elderly woman Abiti Shaibu being assisted with money to help renovate her house.
The donation came from the minister and Lake of Stars among others.
This year also saw the organisers partnering organisations like Unicef, UN Women and UNFPA which concentrated on gender, domestic violence and health issues among others.
At one of the stalls, people had a chance to get tested and know their status but also condoms were distributed.
Whilst the festival has always been a platform of entertainment, the Lake of Stars continued to offer a business for the locals who were selling their different items and some who were doing business outside the venue came as far as Nkhata Bay.
Some people close to the venue also cashed in offering cheap accommodation through their houses.
All in all the Lake of Stars Festival did well once again this year although it has more room for improvement.
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