Festivals are not just in a name—festivals have to show their swag and tell it all that they are festivals.
This is why a festival will never be an ordinary show, a festival is thus different from a show and in fact a festival is bigger than a show.
A show may only be planned in a day and does not need enough personnel to put up, but for a festival, you need resources and one cannot just wake up and put up a festival from the blues – it needs proper planning and preparations as well as adequate time.
Last year the organisers of the Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar – this is one of the well-known and top festivals in Africa postponed the event simply because their wallet was dry.
They could not manage to go on with the festival despite it being an annual event which people in the continent are used to attending.
In the absence of funding they could not go ahead with the festival because they knew this was a big event that needs a proper budget.
Despite postponing the festival, the organisers did not close shop but rather they went on serious drive of raising funds and so next year in February the festival is back.
The organisers have since released the 2017 line-up of the artists billed to perform next year and they include South Africa’s Freshlyground which also performed at this year’s Lake of Stars Festival held at Chintheche Inn in Nkhata Bay from September 28 to October 2 and the country’s little known Lilongwe-based Madalitso Band.
This is what festivals do, announcing a line-up well in advance just to show how serious you are.
Here at home the country has not been spared of festivals.
Malawi today prides in having so many festivals some of which are all about celebrating culture and these include Mulhako wa Alhomwe which was held at Chonde in Mulanje on October 30, 2016.
This year the country has experienced the exploits of festivals such as Lake of Stars, Likoma and Sand Music which was held last weekend at Sunbird Livingstonia in Salima.
Another festival – Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) which takes place in October was postponed this year with the organisers indicating that they had inadequate funding hence they could not run this year.
Apart these, there is also the free Tumaini Festival which happens at Dzaleka Refugee Camp and is held in November.
This is what brings us to the Sand Music Festival which happened last weekend and is spearheaded by Impakt Events led by musician Lucius Banda better known as Soldier.
The festival started in 2010 and this year was running its sixth edition.
Last year the festival won the hearts of many having featured Jamaican reggae dancehall musician Busy Signal, who went on to offer an impressive performance.
Such was the case last year and although the festival had some challenges here and there, it passed the test.
This year, people were anticipating nothing but the best for the festival which Lucius has described as a festival run by Malawians and for Malawians.
The organisers came up with several names as headliners for the 2016 festival including Jamaica’s Sizzla only for the name to disappear from the picture later and so in came Tanzania’s Diamond.
The headliner of the festival was announced a little late by the organisers and to make matters worse the line-up delayed.
All the same people were excited with the festival and it was even put on top with the presence of Diamond.
And so come the day of the festival – the organisers did well on the entry points, but the main stage was being mounted on the same day.
This is where one noticed that something was wrong with the organisers. A festival no matter what would not put up a stage on the very same day the festival was officially opening.
The stage was supposed to be put up a week before the festival and this also applies to the generators which were to act as back up for power in these times of blackouts – they were supposed to be tested in time so as to rectify the faults but alas all this was done on the opening day.
So with all these challenges, Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Patricia Kaliati was somehow embarrassed as she officially opened the festival in blackout.
This is where as a festival you need to put up a strong team that looks at different areas starting from artists, marketing, media and other areas.
“The festival is okay for me but this being the sixth year; they could not have been having all these other challenges. For instance the stage, why mount it on the same day? Again I think the organisers need a strong team, a festival is not a one-man show,” said Aubrey Tembo, who travelled all the way from Mzuzu to see Diamond.
Tembo said the organisers scored points in that they maintained their standards of bringing top artists.
“They brought Diamond who is a top artist, they need to be commended on that and then Turbulence and others but they lost it on the challenges they had. Of course you cannot run away from challenges but at least they have to be minimal,” he said.
One of the artists, who did not want to be named, said the organisers were still running the Sand Music Festival as a show.
“What I have noticed is that this is a festival but the organisers are still running it as a show. They play it simple and this is why they mounted the stage on the same day. Had it been they mounted it in good time some of the problems could not have been experienced,” he said.
The artist said the absence of a proper programme for people to follow was another sign that the organisers needed to improve on the event.
He said the organisers also need to revisit their programmes and add in other activities as most of the mornings and afternoons there was nothing with performances coming at night.
“People were using guess work, the programme was not stable and to me this is not right for a festival. I think going to next year, they need to sit down and put in place a proper team to look into all the areas. They can even outsource event management teams to build this otherwise this year it was not better than last year,” he said.
Despite having the rains and heavy winds that swept away tents and forced the organisers to remove equipment on the main stage before putting it back after it became calmer, the main stage experienced power shortage earlier on Saturday.
To avoid keeping people waiting, some of the performances which included Paul Banda and Alleluya Band, Tay Grin, Dan Lufani and Zambia’s Organised Family were pushed to the smaller stage.
Lucius admitted of the challenges during a press conference organised with partners TNM, Sunbird Livingstonia and artists Diamond and Jamaica’s Turbulence saying they will do better next year.
“We just want to thank people for coming in large numbers and this year the numbers were higher compared to last year. We also would like to thank people for their patience as well as the artists for bearing with us with the challenges we had and we promise to do better,” he said.
The Sand Music Director also said that the biggest challenge they have is that they still have to outsource things.
He indicated that they were still learning and that they were trying to fly a Boeing hence challenges will always be there.
With all this said, Sand Music Festival surely has a possibility to grow only if it puts its house in order.
Diamond, who performed live with his band in the early hours of Sunday may have been frustrated with the challenges but the massive audience that waited gave him a clear picture that Malawi parties to the fullest.
“Thank you for the support that you have given me Malawi,” Diamond said.
Although the sound on the smaller stage was not up to scratch, the sound was not that bad during the festival.
The performances were good with Diamond offering a headliner performance and probably thes only other setback was that artists were not doing sound check in advance as preparation for their performances.
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