It is easy to create a stage in the creative industry, but not many people who create a stage end up attracting multitudes.
Surely, excelling in the industry— which includes building a brand that earns the trust and support of the government, corporate world and the donor community— is a tall order.
But, as they say, good things start with a step and, through hard work, bring about success.
This is what brings us to the story of National Schools Youth Arts Festival (Nasfest).
Nasfest is a platform that was created eight years ago— driven by Light of Youth Creative Organisation (Lyco) under the leadership of James Kitchen.
For eight years, Nasfest has been on the ground holding different activities with a focus on the youth.
In its infancy, Nasfest could not manage to attract massive audiences and there were times that it had to play second fiddle to other annual gatherings such as the Association of Teaching of English in Malawi (Atem).
But it seems that the organisers of Nasfest knew where they were heading to and, according to Kitchen, their focus was on promoting youths.
“We remained faithful to our vision of a well informed, transformed and educated, creative and artistically empowered youths, as well as the preservation of culture,” Kitchen said.
He said their mission is to uphold arts and culture through research, training, exposure and performance as well as the creation of job opportunities and self employment for the youth.
Kitchen said Nasfest was introduced with the objective of creating a platform for youths from different art disciplines to perform or display their talents.
“We started on a very small scale and we have struggled to build the Nasfest brand. We are happy that patience has paid off. We still have more room for improvement and we are still pushing [doors],” Kitchen, who is Lyco’s Executive Director, said.
“It will surprise the country and the world that Nasfest was formed in a strange way. I was coming from home, going down to Chipasula Secondary School Bus Stage in Lilongwe. By then I was staying at Kaliyeka. As I was walking, I heard a very powerful voice.”
Kitchen said the voice was persistent and yet there was nobody calling him.
“Actually, I continued walking and the voice came again informing me that I had the skills, talent and ability to help and assist fellow youths to improve and promote their artworks,” he said.
This happened for the whole day for Kitchen on July 17 2008 and, then, on August 8 he met the late Benard Kwilimbe, former deputy director of Culture to inform him of the issue.
“He encouraged me and advised me to pursue this dream and cultivate it,” he said.
And what followed was the launch of Nasfest on May 4 2009 at Chipasula Secondary School.
“I remember I had only five schools. Out of the five schools, three did well and we gave them cash as their awards using gate collections. I didn’t have money or funding but I managed to host this small festival which impressed the late Kwilimbe,” Kitchen said.
Since then, Kitchen and team have been hosting Nasfest every year and, according to him, this has been done with or without money.
“Actually, some people used to discourage me, or even laugh at me, telling me in the face that I would not go far. Some wondered why I was organising a festival without proper funding but I was determined,” he said.
Kitchen said, since creating the festival, he had been using his own resources supported by the late Kwilimbe and board of trustees.
“It was actually a big challenge for schools to accept Nasfest since they only knew Atem. We could not even manage to attract funding from organisations until 2014 when my friend Elson Kambalu supported us for three years and then Shadreck Chikoti in 2017,” Kitchen said.
He said he was at pains to accept Kwilimbe’s death last year.
“I wish the late Kwilimbe was here today to see the dream he nurtured from the beginning. We are going to honour him on Saturday (tomorrow),” Kitchen said.
He said, through the platform, he wants youths in Malawi, Southern Africa, Africa and the world to shine and showcase their talents.
Kitchen said that, every year, Nasfest brings a specific theme for talented young people in primary and secondary schools to compete and display their works. The youth also disseminate information through drama, poetry, visual arts, music and traditional dances.
“The festival runs at national level and it starts from divisional, regional and then national [level]. During the finals, we present awards,” Kitchen said.
This year, the festival has expanded and its finale will take place for two days at Kamuzu Institute for Sports and Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe today and tomorrow, respectively.
The 2018 festival will run under the theme ‘Youth in Action to Eliminate Harmful Cultural Practices’.
“We are very grateful for the support we have received from Hivos Foundation through the Cultural Fund Malawi and Malawi Broadcasting Network Limited and other partners such as Music Crossroads Malawi and African Politics and Policy,” he said.
Kitchen said they have rebranded Nasfest.
“We want Nasfest to be a fully fledged Youth Arts Festival whereby youth from all artistic disciplines will have their own platforms to display their works. We also want to recognise and award youths who are working hard to uplift arts in Malawi,” the Lyco boss said.
Kitchen also said that, instead of giving prizes to a few school winners, Nasfest will this year award nine schools which made it to the national finals with resource centres.
He said the resource centres will include a computer set, internet access, TV decoder and assorted books.
“We are doing this after observing that there was need for [access to] Information Communication Technology (ICT) and internet [services] in schools. There is also need for books. When we were giving out cash prizes, there was no meaning and impact for the festival. So, we want all schools to benefit equally and be empowered,” Kitchen said.
The festival will see acts such as Lulu, Malinga Mafia, Raphael Sitima, Paphata Cultural Troupe, Joyce Banda Foundation, Chance for Change Dance, Phwezi Boys, Patwell Phiri, Tsabango CDSS, The Chosen One, St Patricks Seminary, Mtendere Cultural Troupe and Bangwe Day Secondary School performing today at Kamuzu Institute for Sports.
Sangie, Luckier Chikopa and Patience Namadingo will perform tomorrow at Bingu International Convention Centre.
“On Saturday (tomorrow), all youths and schools will meet at Kamuzu Institute for Sports for tree planting exercise and, after that, we will have a street carnival to Bingu International Convention Centre,” Kitchen said.
The nine schools that made it to the national finals are Lilongwe Girls, Likuni Boys and Tsabango in the Central Region, Joyce Banda Foundation, Zingwangwa and Bangwe from the Southern Region.
In the Northern Region, the representatives are Phwezi Boys, Lubinga and St Patrick’s Seminary.
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