Malawi may very well be one of the world’s best country for music, both in terms of the artists who call it home and the feverishness with which we claim them as our own. But despite our embarrassment of talent, and our sometimes embarrassing devotion to said talent, this country has had a tougher time showcasing its music, arts and other talents on a large scale.
The Likoma Summer Festival (li-SURF) is a shining tribute to Malawi’s organizational and creative strength which is celebrated once a year on the Lake Malawi Island, located in the northern region of the country.
The event is the third biggest music and art gathering (after Lake of Stars and Sunbird Sand Festival), and this year, it took take place from Friday, the 3rd of April to Sunday, the 6th of April 2015. It is held every year and was initiated in 2014 by the Likoma Islanders.
This year’s festival was called ‘Likoma Festival’ due to the event’s occurrence timing, and it has thrilled its loyal and new fans with world-class music and various art presentation from across the country and outside world.
But some quarters of attendees and artists that at the festival say this year’s festival was marred by a lack of organization and co-ordination with some agreements made between the artists and organizers being changed hours before the actual event. They also sighted that the event was also affected by delays starting with hours-long bus and cruise woes, and conditions on the island which did not meet people’s expectations and as per promised by the event organizers.
People at the festival had to fend for their own accommodation, or rent a mattress without beddings just to spend the night while many slept on the plain beach. Food and water were also some of the major challenges faced by patrons on at the festival as they had to live on beans and buns for the rest of the festival weekend.
To analyze the success Malawi’s festivals have still felt, at best, like second-rate attempts to capture the magic of contemporary fests around the world. Though it has its cons, the festivals saw traditional dance competitions where winners went away cash prices amount to MK15,000 and many other sporting activities including sight-seeing around the island. The festival also saw performance from famous Malawian artists including Bucci, Flo Dee, Piksy, Mlaka Maliro who pulled a 2-hour-straight performance, and many more.
In its own way, the Likoma Festival has aligned itself with the popular Malawi event Lake of Stars—an intimate and interactive weekend where bands and fans stay at a waterside summer camp in Lake Malawi shore districts. Lake of Stars began in 2004 and has since blossomed into satellite fests around the country. In addition to featuring artists, playing classic music in their completeness, LOS’ organizers encourage idiosyncratic performances like Oliver Mtukudzi’s, Sauti Sol or Tay Grin and The Very Best’s one-off collaborations between artists, and the occasional high-profile reunions.
While the word “curated” is fairly overused, it happens to be what sets festivals like Likoma Summer Festival and Lake of Stars apart from corporate-sponsored musical catch-alls.
Timothy Ntilosanje is a Malawian freelance writer, poet, social media guru and arts enthusiast. He specializes in art, music, tourism, culture, entertainment and youth empowerment.