Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
The festival has played a crucial role in uplifting the creative industry in the country by giving a platform to different artists both local and international.
Starting off its journey in 2009, Baf grew faster and ended up attracting Poetry Africa which ended up bringing top acts such as Jamaica’s dub poet Mutabaruka.
The festival has over the years also brought in top artists such as Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi and Mali’s Salif Keita. It has also managed to bring on its stage South Africa’s veteran gospel musician Rebecca Malope.
However, those were the early years when people saw a lot of potential from the festival and by now, Baf would have been very far and even walking toe to toe with other renowned festivals across the world.
But the organisers seemed to lack the vision such that it lost direction. Today, there is no Poetry Africa and the festival has failed to execute some of its programmes properly.
But despite failing in some areas, the festival has still shown its power looking at the path it has travelled to where it is today.
This year the festival celebrates its 10th anniversary at Blantyre Cultural Centre with several activities set to take centre stage.
This year will also see Baf staging a carnival today.
Last year the festival failed to attract a huge audience despite having top acts such as Black Missionaries.
But celebrating 10 years will be meaningless if the festival has nothing to offer to the people. What is unique now for the festival? And what is there for them to show?
Baf Executive Director, Thom Chibambo, said there were a lot of new things for people to see.
“Baf is now creating a positive impact for the country and the creative industry where we managed to train students from six districts and we did run a competition and so we will have the winners performing during this year’s festival,” Chibambo said.
He said this year they are also having a photo exhibition featuring some of the artists the festival has had since it started in 2009.
“We will also have a short documentary screening of some of the activities. We are bringing on stage some of the artists who have graced the festival over the years. We are also bringing on stage artists from other countries and for instance, we have a group from Mozambique which will be performing at Baf for the first time,” Chibambo said.
The festival was expected to start Thursday with a preview and then a carnival today and then performances from students from different schools.
“People should come to Baf to experience the best of creativity. We are looking at a variety of activities. We are one of the festivals which has always given a platform to students to show their talents and we will continue to do that,” Chibambo said.
On the venue, which has been under refurbishment since it was ransacked by thieves in 2011, Chibambo said:
“BCC is now in good shape and we would like to thank the government for working tirelessly to put it back to its original state. Of course, there are some things which are still yet to be done but overall it is a venue that is worth hosting a festival or activities,” he said.
Chibambo said Baf has prepared three stages this year.
“We have the Amphitheatre which is going to be the main stage, the auditorium where there and film screenings will take place and then the mean youth stage where up and coming artists will show their work and enhance their creative skills,” he said.
Chibambo also boosted that Baf is the only festival in the country which has reasonable gate charges.
Having maintained its dates since it started which has always been early October, the festival this year is facing a challenge as some festivals have come up. For instance, there is the Hangout Music Festival which is also happening on the same weekend.
“We have kept our dates intact just to show how serious we are, we are also priviledged that this year National Geographic named us among the top five festivals in the country,” Chibambo said.
He said they were a festival looking beyond a lot of areas and that it was here to show that art is a business.
“We have art disciplines such as visual arts, photography, theatre and music. We also have vulnerable groups that we work with and they include Chichiri Prison Dance Troupe, orphans and deaf students, who we have trained so as to fight unemployment,” Chibambo said.
He said this year’s festival has been initiated with support from players such as Osisa, Germany Embassy, Hivos and Blantyre City Council.
The festival which runs up to Sunday is this year running under the theme Fit for Life with a focus on women and girls.
The festival is also expected to bring forth workshops where artists will share different insights into the creative industry.
Some of the acts performing at the festival include Tudulos from Mozambique, Black Missionaries, Lucius Banda and Annemarie Quinn.