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Malawi’s suffering creative industry

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The creative industry has the potential to contribute to the economic development of the country yet it in Malawi, it is neglected.

When actress Joyce Mhango Chavula triumphed during the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCAs) held in Lagos, Nigeria, many journalists were surprised to learn that she never went to any film making school.

Mhango Chavula said she would have loved to sharpen her skills but there are no art schools in Malawi such that most artists are doing it on their own shining with their inborn talents.

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The creative industry in the country is a neglected sector which has been given little attention let alone getting enough support from the corporate world.

It plays second fiddle in almost everything and it is regarded as a platform that cannot contribute anything to national development and yet countries like United States of America and Nigeria for example are benefiting a lot from the creative industry.

But it is a different story in Malawi where a treasure such as Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) formerly French Cultural Centre takes ages to rehabilitate.

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The place could have been a perfect hub to house arts associations but there it is in a Sorry state with renovations being done at a snail’s pace.

And yet this is a hub which has in the past years hosted renowned artists including Jamaica’s Mutabaruka and Benin’s Grammy award winning singer Angelique Kidjo.

It is a place which was active hosting different artistic workshops.

Here it actually starts with the government where even the Department of Culture gets a piece meal of a budget that cannot even sustain the different projects.

It has taken the country years for it to approve the Cultural Policy and at the moment the creative industry still awaits the formation of the National Arts and Heritage Council (Nahec) which when it comes to fruition will among others bring sanity to the creative industry in terms of operation as well as attract funding from the government.

At the meantime, many of the arts associations in the country are relying heavily on the Cultural Support Scheme spearheaded by Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) but funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

Having run for years the Cultural Support Scheme is now coming to an end and sources indicate that a Cultural Fund will be created to be driven by Hivos and will see arts associations applying for funding now.

Arts and culture is something not worthy appreciating in Malawi and this is why even in schools it is not encouraged at all.

The creative sector is a department whose ministry has never been stable, it is moved from one ministry to the other during cabinet reshuffles and it ends up being deployed ministers, who in most cases have no interest.

There is just much suffering in the creative sector where artists have been crying for the revised Copyright Act which would help them in fighting piracy.

“The creative sector is not given the much needed attention and yet it has shown it has potential to put Malawi on the map and help in building its economy. Piracy has hit us hard and we have been crying for the revised Copyright Act but nothing has come up yet,” said Musicians Union of Malawi President Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango.

And as this is not enough musicians are failing to benefit from their sweat despite their products being frequently used.

Cosoma Senior Licensing Officer Rosario Kamanga recently bemoaned the challenges they are facing to get money for instance from mobile companies who signed licensing agreements last year for ringtones.

“Mobile companies owe us close to over K70 million and during the signing of the agreement last year they promised to honour this but up to now. This is the only money which artists are relying on to uplift their skills and yet it is not being honoured,” said Kamanga.

But with the several challenges artists are facing in the country, they have continued to do their best and shine outside.

The recent success is that of visual artists, whose works currently on exhibition in Germany following the German/Malawi Symposium which started last year in Malawi before moving to Germany have sold out.

The Malawi/German Art Symposium last year brought together German and Malawi artists led by Kris Heide from Germany and Ellis Singano from Malawi.

The symposium saw the artists working together before holding an exhibition in Blantyre and Lilongwe running under the theme Myths of Malawi.

Through this platform artists exhibited works telling different stories and local artists told stories such as that of Phelezunje and Kamdothi.

The exhibitions were successful in the country although not many locals attended and not many artworks or paintings were sold.

But now the exhibition is in Germany where it has so far moved in different cities and most of the paintings have been sold.

Now that tells you something. Malawi has talent and that its works are valued outside the country.

During the World Book Day which falls on April 23 every year, Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam) revealed that there are several books written by Malawians which are outside the country and that because “we do not value and preserve what we have we may lose some of these works to our neighbouring countries.”

Singano, who is currently in Germany said he was happy to see that Malawian paintings are attracting much attention during the exhibitions.

“So far so good, actually there was a live painting during one of the exhibitions where I took time out to play the Malawian drum. I am happy that most of the Malawian paintings have sold out, I have said now and again that we have talent,” he said.

Singano added:

“The Malawian paintings are also selling a lot because they are different from the paintings they have been seeing and the message is different and very rich. I am even happy that one of the paintings was bought by a Malawian living here,” he said.

Singano said despite the various challenges artists in Malawi are facing, they have to continue to work hard and aim at producing the best.

“Malawi has great talent which just needs more time, we need exposure and we need to unite as well as strive hard to market our products. Much as the government and the corporate world have not done enough, we also have to play our role,” he said.

And true to Singano’s words, the country has potential in the arts no doubt about that, all what is needed is to stay focused and keep pushing regardless of the various challenges and strive for quality.

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