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Return of shows amidst Covid-19

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HARAWA — This is nothing political

Some concerned artists on Tuesday held a press conference in Lilongwe to announce that they would be going back to the stage saying that artists were struggling in the absence of live performances.

With the world hit by Covid–19 pandemic which continues to claim lots of lives, countries have put up strict precautionary measures aimed at avoiding the spread of the pandemic.

Some countries are in lockdown with people not allowed to go out while others such as Malawi have not gone into lock down but have rather put up measures that include a ban on gatherings of not more than 100 people.

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The ban on gatherings of not more than 100 people has affected live performances with artists now staying for close to two months without holding shows.

Several artists had planned shows including album launches but they were forced to postpone because of the ban and for some artists, they were affected heavily in that they invested more money in putting things together.

Some of the notable artists, who postponed their shows include Patience Namadingo, who was set to hold mash-up shows with Soldier Lucius Banda among others, in March 2020. South Africa-based musician Gwamba also postponed the launch of his album Mama Said God First which he was also expected to launch in March in Mzuzu.

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It has been a painful two months for the artists, who solely rely on music as well as other talents to make their ends meet and look after their families.

Last month veteran, musicians Saul Chembezi and Peter Likhomo indicated that they were just staying home as artists and that some of them risked being evicted in their houses by landlords since they had not yet paid their rents.

Chembezi and Likhomo rely on live performances which they hold in different drinking joints every weekend.

The situation for the creative industry is not only tough in Malawi but other countries as well and, just recently, the country’s veteran musician Kidd Mkandawire, who is based in Denmark, said it was tough for the entertainment industry especially with lockdown.

It was because of such a tough situation that in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta, decided to come out and bail out the creative industry by putting up a package. Artists in Kenya have something on the ground to keep them going during this period.

“Why can’t we do the same here? Artists are struggling and they have nowhere to run to. If a package can be put up, the better,” Dikamawoko Arts Director Tawonga Nkhonjera, said.

But having seen that some sectors are not following the preventive measures and that there was no enforcement citing political parties which are currently on the ground holding rallies ahead of the presidential election, artists have also decided to come out and stage performances.

Gospel musician Wendy Harawa, who is chairperson of the concerned active artists, said as musicians, they were dismayed that politicians from both the government and opposition continue holding rallies amidst Covid -19 pandemic.

“This is disheartening. But seeing that Covid-19 is here for some time, we may as well accept and learn how to stay alive in it. So, as concerned musicians, we plan to hold three big shows, one in Lilongwe, the other in Blantyre and Mzuzu which will allow only 100 people while observing social distancing, we will provide masks and sanitiser,” Harawa said.

She maintained that despite returning amidst Covid-19, they will be hosting shows and then follow the necessary precautionary measures.

But is the return worth it? Is it worth it following the wrong that political parties are doing by putting people at risk?

“To me, two wrongs do not make a right. I feel artists could have waited abit, I know they have been affected greatly but Covid-19 is still here and holding shows would be putting people at risk. I think what they need to do at the moment is just to lobby the government to put up a package through their parent ministry to support them during this time otherwise a return is not that good,” Charles Matemba, a fan, said.

He said that artists can also embrace other forms to reach out to the fans with shows just like other artists were doing.

Faith Mussa

“This is the time to think outside the box. We have online which they can do where people can stream and then make money. Last weekend we watched Faith Mussa and Gwamba and we have also seen other artists in the country. Why can’t they do the same and only come out when things get back to normal,” Matemba said.

Another fan Suzgo Gondwe, said he was happy that artists have decided to return to the stage.

“We miss entertainment. But if politicians are having business as usual, why not artists? Is Covid-19 only in the creative industry or the Church? At least the artists have indicated that they will follow the preventive measures such as having less than 100 people and then provide masks and other items but this is not being done in rallies. So, to me this is okay, all they cannot do is make sure they do not compromise on the number. Let it be 100 or even less and then probably put up a good entry fee,” Gondwe said.

He also questioned Matemba’s suggestion on online shows saying online was not yet a profitable element for now.

“How many people can pay for an online show in the country? Let’s be serious on this online needs to gain ground that is when artists will start profiting from it. If there is still no hope on selling music online what more of a live show? Online shows should just come in when we do not have live performances,” Matemba said.

Last week Faith’s manager, Samuel Chiwaka also said the country was yet to catch up with the culture of online payment as regards online shows.

“Data is expensive in the country, local card payments are a haven for online fraudsters. We are not yet there as far as getting into the culture of online payment,” Chiwaka said.

Faith, who has been touring Europe but has been affected by Covid-19 pandemic, observed that online shows in this time of the pandemic was the way to go.

“It’s one way of doing things but it cannot replace live shows. We can make money from it and we can create business but there is need for good organisation,” he said.

Some quarters have said the creative industry needs to bang heads and look at the online landscape critically otherwise it was a good move to earn money in these times of Covid-19 but also exploit it further going forward.

But Harawa indicated that they will play it safe and that as musicians, they were also a voice as such, they will use the shows to disseminate information to the masses.

“We may say that lockdown did not happen in Malawi but for musicians, we have experienced a lockdown. We are starting soon and the press briefing was the beginning of everything,” she said.

Thocco Katimba, who is also a renowned gospel musician observed that conditions were set by the government that there should not be any gatherings of not more than 100 people but having obliged for two months, they thought they should come out.

“We also need to survive, things in other sectors are normal, they are making money and life is normal for them. For politicians life is normal but for us its tough, so why not return and then follow the necessary precautionary measures?” Katimba said.

He said the three big shows they will be holding will give them direction on how they will be handling the shows going forward.

“As artists we always put the lives of people first and this is why we complied, staying for two months without shows that give us money. But now we have nothing, how are we going to survive? If we continue we may end up suffering more so, we hope to be understood,” the ‘Bakha’ star said.

Musician Lucius Banda popularly known as Soldier, said they will for now be selecting open venues as part of making sure that their fans were safe.

“We are very sure that people will be safe. We will also make sure that in those shows, people are seated and maintain social distance. We will provide masks and sanitisers. We will comply with Covid -19 health measures. We are starting this month end and we will explore possibilities,” Banda said.

Having been out of the stage for two months, it will also be another huge task to coax people to patronise the shows as there is still fear out there from people as regards Covid-19.

Last week, Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, said it was the responsibility of everyone to make sure that they stay safe and avoid the pandemic.

On what was his take on politicians holding political rallies attended by more people regardless of the pandemic, Mhango, called on people to stay away from the rallies if they were to be safe and that attending them was putting themselves at risk.

Ministry of Health Spokesperson Joshua Malango said to them, the issue of preventive measures still stands and that gatherings of more than 100 were not allowed.

The artists are struggling to make ends meet but starting shows when things have not yet normalised is still a risk but the hope is that they will truly follow the necessary precautionary measures during the shows.

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