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Long way to go for Sand Music Fest

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POOR SOUND — Nepman performs on the smaller stage

Sand Music Festival’s 10th anniversary celebration finally took place last weekend at Sunbird Livingstonia in Salima District featuring several acts including Tanzania’s Diamond and South Africa’s Master KG.

The three-day festival which started at Zitherepano in Mangochi District before moving to Salima, pulled a huge audience despite having some hiccups that disappointed fans including the no show on the main stage on the opening day last Friday.

It has been a long walk for the festival and it is this journey which has seen the event spearheaded by Impakt Events earn praise from people and last year the festival was rated among the best six festivals in the country.

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Ethno-musician Waliko Makhala, who was part of the line-up and performed on Saturday, said the organisers led by Soldier Lucius Banda, need to be commended first and foremost for taking the brave decision of hosting the event during a time when the world is battling Covid-19 pandemic.

Several festivals in and outside the country have been cancelled due to the pandemic but Sand Music Festival made sure they came out being their 10th anniversary.

But having said that, celebrating 10th anniversary is no mean achievement, festivals have come up and then died a natural death without even making it as far as 10 years.

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So for Sand Music Festival talking about its 10th anniversary, expectations were high that they would prepare well and put everything in order to give people another experience to remember.

But it panned out to be different. The first day of the festival, people failed to sample performances on the main stage following the blowing off of speakers due to more power output from the generator.

The generator was used following frequent power cuts and also use of several equipment that demanded more power. This happened at night such that the problem could not be fixed in time, forcing the audience to watch performances on a smaller stage.

“These technical glitches happen but I expected them to have a team that would look into all the issues and even evaluate last year’s festival to avoid some of these challenges. Sometimes, I feel Sand Music Festival organising team relaxes a lot,” Ackim Tembo, a Blantyre resident, said.

Having failed to host performances on the main stage on Friday, the focus now turned to the smaller stage where it was also discovered that the sound was not perfect.

Musicians such as Skeffa Chimoto and his Real Sounds Band and Zembani Band team featuring, among others, Sam Smack and Nepman endured a tough time performing on the smaller stage as sound was poor and it could not even be heard from afar.

“If they had made proper arrangements on all this to say, we will have performances on the main stage and then others on a smaller stage then they could not have experienced the poor sound. But there was that neglect where they only concentrated on the main stage,” Tembo said.

Random interviews with fans on this year’s festival, many described it as the worst compared to the previous editions although the audience was rewarded with scintillating performances from Diamond and Master KG as well as other local acts on the last day.

Diamond has proved that he is an artist that always gives his best. His first outing in 2016 saw him give out an electric performance and it was the same this year.

“This is what we want, artists that should prove that they deserve to perform at such a festival. We have over the years seen some artists that have failed people. I still have fond memories of performances by Jamaica’s Busy Signal and Kenyatta Hill,” Harold Mtema, who travelled all the way from Mzuzu, said.

This being 10th edition, the festival was supposed to be super great.

“But we got less from the 100. I would give it 50 out of 100. Yes, we remained and enjoyed the performances from Diamond and Master KG but I still feel the organisers could have done better,” Elizabeth Kafere, a resident of Lilongwe, said.

Kafere said the organisers had all the time to check the generators and even work on all the equipment and test it before the festival.

“The issue of having speakers blowing off means they did not have a testing process which is key,” she said.

Having failed to enjoy perfectly the performances on Friday, the audience hoped for the best on Saturday to compensate for Friday’s loss and it started well with performances coming from among others, Sangie, Janta, Tay Grin, Saint, Raphael Loopro from Germany and Patience Namadingo, who sparked when he collaborated with Lucius in a reggae mash-up medley.

But as the audience looked forward to Diamond and Master KG, Lulu and Black Missionaries, there was a heavy downpour which disrupted the performances. The equipment got soaked and so performances could not continue. Another disappointment for them.

This is not the first time Sand Music Festival has experienced rains. It was the same scenario in 2016 when Diamond also performed at the festival.

The audience had to wait for the following day to see the performances of Diamond, Master KG, Black Missionaries, Lulu and other gospel acts including Great Angels Choir and Esther Chungu from Zambia.

“For me, they need to have a team to strictly look into that. Yes you cannot control nature but at least they could have consulted Meteorological Services just to have an idea of the weather. Or else they need to look at changing the dates to better months,” Florence Kabano from Zomba, said.

Master KG during a press briefing after his performance admitted that he was affected by the changes as he had planned for Saturday’s performance.

“I should admit I am affected. I wanted to give out more on Saturday but with the changes it turned out to be different performing on Sunday. But still more we had to satisfy the people. They showed love by waiting for us and we had to reward them,” the ‘Jerusalema’ star said.

With little time for sound check since equipment was organised late on Sunday, Master KG, said they had no enough time to do sound check.

“I am a DJ and so I want to start with dee-jaying before turning to a performance but I had to move in quickly because of the situation. It’s been great performing in Malawi once again. My first time in Malawi, I had a few songs but coming back now, I have a catalogue of songs which people were singing along,” he said.

For the first time, a festival in the country had a minister patronising it for the whole three days and sample the whole festival.

The previous editions of festivals, culture ministers only come during official opening and then leave.

This time around Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Michael Usi remained until the last day and he saw all what festivals go through.

“Let me commend Lucius Banda and Impakt Events for a job well done in putting up this festival. I have said that art and tourism go together, we need to support these festivals to uplift tourism,” Usi said.

He also called for unity among creative players saying when such festivals are being held, they should support each other.

“Let creatives not work in isolation. Let us unite and strive to hold hands because the success goes not to one person but the whole country. Festivals should also try us much to work with government,” Usi said.

He also said that there is need for festivals to plan things to avoid experiencing unnecessary challenges.

“Planning is very key especially for festivals. This is why festivals are not done in a day and this is simply because there are a lot of things to look into otherwise I have enjoyed the Sand Music Festival although there were rains,” the minister, who had time to show his dance moves, said.

Banda had promised ahead of the festival that they would have other activities to give people a variety just as they have done in the other editions but they did not.

This was a festival that was dominated by music and all what people did as they waited for performances to start was to swim in the fresh waters of Lake Malawi and play beach soccer.

There is no way a festival can be 100 percent perfect. There will always be some challenges but it is important for organisers to play it safe and make sure that they at least offer 90 percent of what they promise.

“They need not be repeating the same mistakes. This being their 10th, they could have avoided some of these mistakes. They need to critically look at where they have come from and evaluate and make improvements,” Buxton Kayuni also from Blantyre, said.

For the first time, Sand Music Festival which has over the years also hosted other acts such as Jamaica’s Busy Signal and Kenyatta Hill, the festival experienced ugly scenes as people got angry following lack of communication from organisers.

The communication team failed the festival big time as it failed to give out information during the festival especially when the speakers were blown off and when there were heavy rains.

On Sunday when people started pelting empty bottles on the main stage, this came not because people were disappointed with the rains but because there was lack of communication and lack of communication bleeds false information.

Lucius admitted during a press conference after performances on the last day that they did not do well on communication and promised that next year it will be different.

“We didn’t do well on that and there will be an improvement next year. This is why people were angry and pelted empty bottles, they were right to do that and this is why I did not hesitate to come and explain to them although I had not been feeling well the whole morning,” he said.

Despite experiencing hiccups, Lucius insisted that this year’s festival is one of the best citing the numbers.

“People came in large numbers and patronised the whole three days which has not been the case in the previous editions. Every year we try to do our best to improve,” he said.

This year was their 10th anniversary celebration for Sand Music Festival but not worth calling the shots. There is more to improve to satisfy the people.

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