National Schools Youth Arts Festival (Nasfest) started on a slow note and despite experiencing challenges of funding over the years, the platform has turned out to be a hub of arts and culture for young people as far as showcasing their talent was concerned.
Over the years for instance drama talent has been unearthed through plays staged by secondary schools in the country.
Nasfest driven by Light of Youth Creative Organisation (Lyco) has offered something similar to the Association of Teaching of English in Malawi (Atem) and with Atem being absent for the past two years, Nasfest has bridged that gap to give secondary schools time to stage their plays.
But while Atem has concentrated more on plays, Nasfest has played a fast one to expand its base by bringing in awards as a motivation and have been given to filmmakers and other players in the creative industry.
The platform has even changed its name to be known as Nasfest International Youth Arts Festival as part of growing the creative industry not only in Malawi but in Southern African.
Nasfest has seen itself expanding its base to reach out to countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe through a relationship which last year saw Nasfest members travel to Zimbabwe to be part of some of the activities as part of a cultural exchange.
The fruits of this relationship have also seen artists from Zambia and Zimbabwe being part of this year’s event to take place today and tomorrow at Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Lilongwe.
Lyco Executive Director, James Kitchen, has bemoaned the lack of support and inadequate funding but indicated that they were happy with the progress they have made since they started Nasfest.
“We have faced lots of challenges with inadequate funding being top of it. This year because of funding we have even failed to pay some of the artists but looking at the way we have moved with the event, some have just offered to perform for free. We are thankful to all players, who have assisted us over the years to be where we are today. The journey has not been easy but we are happy with the contribution we have made not only to Malawi but Southern Africa,” Kitchen said.
Since 2009, Kitchen said they have managed to reach out to 92 secondary schools and over 9,000 youth in the country through the initiative.
“Ofcourse some of the international acts such as Mtsinje Trust and Kasama Arts confirmed participation but at the eleventh hour told us that they won’t make it due to funding,” he said.
Despite the absence of some of the groups from Zambia, Kitchen, said the other players would be part of the 2020 event.
“Last year we went to Zimbabwe in July after being invited by Let Them Trust which is being run and managed by Chidochemoyo Musasiwa Gutu. She works with young people in Zimbabwe to promote arts and culture in schools. She is also building a cultural village whereby all tribes in Zimbabwe will have a compound or hut,” he said.
It was in this vein that Kitchen and team having been impressed by the Zimbabwean artist’s works, decided to honour her with a noble award.
“This award is special and we have given it to a number of people for their success stories in promoting arts and culture. We have given it to Mathews Mfune of Music Crossroads Malawi, actress and filmmaker Joyce Mhango Chavula and Smith Likongwe among others and now we are giving it to Chido,” Kitchen said.
He said working with their counterparts in Zimbabwe has given them new ideas as well as enriched them.
“We hope to build this relationship where we can be having schools from here going to Zambia or Zimbabwe and be part of the festivals and then also having schools from the two countries perform here,” Kitchen said.
He said honouring the Zimbabwean artist with a noble award was also part of strengthening regional ties.
Chidochemoyo said she also runs a schools arts festival in Zimbabwe called Let Them Trust and that this is where she met Nasfest team.
“The vision is to have schools from Malawi coming to our festival and Let Them bring schools from Zimbabwe to Nasfest,” she said.
She said Southern Africa has talent and that it was only through such platforms that it could network and learn from each other.
“The award that Nasfest will be giving me is a clear testimony of the friendship we have created. I am looking forward to more of such exciting moments,” Chidochemoyo said.
The festival to be headlined by musician Wikise this year, will also bring on board several other acts and they include comedian Nya Uyu, poets Hudson Chamasowa and Raphael Sitima, Yusuf Abubakar, Jah Favour, AgogoAmuna, Nthunzi Creative Minds, Harmony Theatre, Macloudy Munanzwa from Zambia, Assitej Zambia, Chipawo Children from Zimbabwe, Let Them Trust from Zimbabwe and Umunthu Theatre.
The festival is also expected to host secondary schools that made it during the regional finals and they include Marymount Catholic Secondary School from the Nothern Region, Robert Blake, Lilongwe Girls and Darlo Girls from the Central Region whereas the Southern Region has among others, Michiru View Girls, Zomba Catholic, and Joyce Banda Foundation.
“This is a school showcase grand finale and we are happy to give these schools such a platform. During the festival we will present awards in form of printers to these schools,” Kitchen said.
The festival will also have awards which will go to 10 young theatre makers and 15 young achievers in theatre and film.
“We launched the recognition awards for students, youth, artists, institutions and other players in 2012 as part of our contribution towards the promotion of arts and culture in the country,” Kitchen said.
Some of the categories set to be awarded include best theatre group, playwright, best actor and actress and best director.
Nasfest decided to engage the public in coming up with the names of the artists in the categories.
“It’s a festival full of different artistic disciplines because we have music, poetry, drama, visual arts, film screening and on top of that we also have master class workshops. We are here not only to offer entertainment but our main objective is to transform and educate youth through arts and culture thereby exposing talents of students and youth,” Kitchen said.
He said the festival has also been used as a vehicle to tackle different issues affecting the society such as gender-based violence.
“When we are holding our festival and even the regional contests we normally choose a theme and the idea is to challenge students to think outside the box. We still have more room for improvement for schools in terms of coming up with strong productions but we are happy with the progress,” Kitchen said.