At the backstage in Sunbird Nkopola Lodge – Mangochi on the shores of Lake Malawi, I nearly find it impossible to speak to Lucius Banda, who is the lead organiser of Malawi’s famed Sand Music Festival.
Wendy Favour Harawa, his collaborator, whose phone buzzes all the time, tells me the organising team is usually busy glued to a mission of delivering the best music festival in Africa.
A moment later, Harawa turns up with South African singer Ndivhudzannyi Ralivhona, alias Makhadzi, who later wows revellers with an electric performance.
‘‘Muya wanga uri yes’’, Makhadzi sings and suddenly, the audience replies: ‘‘Utshi toda zwine wa funa shangoni uri’’ yes. Shocked that Malawians could sing her music, she responds with greetings in Malawi’s Chichewa, ‘‘muli bwanji’’ as the crowd sing and dance to her performance.
Makhadzi, who sings in her home language, Tshivenda, further proves that language is not a barrier in music. Who would have ever thought that Malawians would sing to non-Malawian music?
Makhadzi and other artistes’ performances at the festival evidently foster a sense of community and shared cultural experience in Africa. The festival is truly a Pan-Africanist music engagement. It annually gives platforms to musicians across the African continent and beyond.
Harawa shares that organisers book international artistes to deliberately give a platform to African Music and pave the way for a cultural exchange through music.
Inaugurated in 2010 at Zitherepano Club in Malawis’ Mangochi District, Sand Music Festival is proving the fact that African music festivals can survive without relying on donor funding alone.
Lucius Banda, the lead organiser, explains that the Sand Music Festival was people-centred at its inception. The hope was and remains that the people themselves can guarantee the festival’s existence through ticket sales and sponsorship from local and international companies.
“This is a people festival that relies on the support of Malawians and others who attend on an annual basis,” Banda says, adding, “We also usually tap into the business community and the corporate world for sponsorships.”
Banda also suggests that most African donor-funded music festivals usually end up failing because organisers fail to find a way forward whenever funding stops. The music legend shares that much as the festival would welcome donor funding, organisers are so much interested in sustainability.
Banda points out that sponsorship has been the biggest challenge in organising the event since its inception a decade ago. While he encourages corporate companies and governments to support the creative industry, he hastens to add that African creatives should pick interest in creating their own funded festivals. This, he notes, will give them independence insofar as charting a direction for African music is concerned.
He further reasons that there is more to the festival than just music. This is especially so since the festival helps to unify local and international artistes, as well as other people through music. He adds that locally, the festival creates thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly, especially in the hospitality sector.
“The festival is steadily becoming an influential event to the Malawian tourism industry since it attracts people from all regions of Africa and the rest of the world,” he notes.
Organisers are deliberately helping revellers to unlock Malawis’ tourism potential and the beauty of Lake Malawi by changing venues. Last year, the festival was held at Kambiri Beach in Salima.
In July 2020, Gidesi Chalamanda, Malawi’s oldest music legend, collaborated with the southern African country’s local artiste Patience Namadingo to do a rendition of his song, Linnyhoo. Namadingo’s rendition with the 92-year-old went viral and attracted millions of views on various music streaming platforms and social media. The music project announced Malawi’s music potential to the world, with Chalamanda’s amazing bass vocals.
Banda explains that the Malawi government needs to invest more in music and the entire creative sector since the sector is doing a credible job to market the country, a trend which can bolster the country’s tourism.
At the Sand Music Festival, the venue and its surrounding is one big market for the country’s local crafts and food markets. To top things up, people in the area usually tap into the hospitality sector through homestay tourism.
Harawa, who also encourages the government to tap into the music industry by supporting the festival, shares that the music industry itself is a significant contributor to the economy. She notes that the festival is helping the music industry to grow. This trend is automatically paving the way for recording studios, music labels, music producers, and other professionals involved in the creation and distribution of music, who definitely pay taxes.
“These businesses generate revenue and create jobs, stimulating economic activity,” Harawa says, adding that the festival attracts large numbers of tourists, both domestically and internationally, which boost local economies by increasing demand for hotels, restaurants, transportation services, and nightlife.
Moving forward, Harawa notes that as the festival continues to market Malawi’s music, artistes will tap into the digital music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music as music streaming becomes more lucrative than ever.
About the and music festival
The festival, which takes place on an annual basis, is Malawi’s biggest music festival.
It features music, dance, poetry, comedy, disruptive entertainment, sports and drama.
It provides an exhibition of arts and crafts and other local products, a tourism expo, an outdoor area for food and drink vendors selling traditional, as well as branded fare, a youth zone and a business expo for the corporate and government sectors.
Some of the major international stars to have performed at the festival include Busy Signal, Harmonize, Diamond Platinumz, Busy Signal, Awilo Longomba, among others.
Since its inception, the Sand Music Festival has grown in visitor numbers and now counts as one of the largest events in Malawi.