Malawi Lake of Stars festival: good music is just the half of it

Now in its 11th-year, festival draws audiences from all over the continent and beyond.

FOR over 10 years, the Lake of Stars festival has brought artistes and audiences from the United Kingdom to the shoreline of Malawi for a celebration of music and African culture. In its earlier years, it had a reputation for being a venue for British partygoers to convene with expats and enjoy Africa, absent of a local crowd; but the scene has changed and the festival now offers a refreshingly diverse art experience. 

This year, the Lake of Stars Arts Festival will return to Sunbird Nkopola Lodge on Lake Malawi from September 26-28 2014.

In the past, renowned UK musicians such as the “Noisettes” and “Afrikan Boy”, shared the stage with African luminaries like Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi and Kenya’s Sauti Sol. These musicians, representing indie rock, grime, world beats, and afropop, are a few of the established names and styles of music that have graced this arena.

Along with giving international audiences a taste of southeast Africa, the festival has made strides to expose its audiences to the musical styling of contemporary Malawi. The increased number of Malawian acts has included MCs and artistes such as Tay Grin, Chiozo, Peter Mawanga  and Tigris, who have performed several years in a row. 

These artists have grown locally and internationally, because the Lake of Stars festival conveners have made sure to take Malawian artists to the UK, prior to and after the festival. There, these artists perform at parties that fundraise, promote, and celebrate the Lake of Stars festival.

Last month, at the Commonwealth games, Lake of Stars had a special event that featured Malawi artiste Tay Grin performing at the Glasgow Green. Earlier this year, his compatriot Peter Mawanga performed in Glasgow, having been scouted at the 2013 Lake of Stars festival by Celtic Connections, and booked to perform at concerts abroad. T

Cross-cultural ethos
These intercultural connections and the reciprocated tours epitomise the cross-cultural ethos at work with the Lake of Stars festival. The idea is not only can UK visitors and musicians add to the music and tourist industry in Malawi, but also Malawi in particular and Africa in general can contribute to the UK arts and cultural scene for the better.

To that end, this year’s festival will include 12 Scottish artistes as part of a reciprocal programme with Creative Scotland. The Scottish acts will include a poet, comedian, filmmaker, and street artist. This is because it is not only musical acts that grace the stage at the Lake of Stars festival, theatre, clowning, mixed martial arts and dance are all part of the experience. 

For the first time in the festival’s 11-year history, there will be talks fashioned after the increasingly popular TEDx talks that disseminate intellectual, creative, and innovative ideas. Lake of Stars has become much more than a musical festival, it is a celebration of artistic expression, and increasingly, a platform to launch young Malawian talent.

More family friendly
There has been a move to make the festival more family friendly and a place for a more socio-economically diverse audience. This has been particularly significant to students from the Jacaranda school who participate in the festival year after year. 

Neighbouring the venue, 2008 CNN Hero Marie De Silva founded the Jacaranda school in the home she group up in; it has a mission to provide education, nutrition and medication to orphans in Malawi. 

Students from the school have composed songs and performed for appreciative crowds during the festival. Musical expression has become a means of positively engaging the disenfranchised youth, and according to De Silva, the festival has become a much-anticipated, exciting opportunity for the students from her school. Lake of Stars is a festival committed to having a positive impact on the community and the country that it returns to year after year.

With Malawi voted as one of top 10 places to visit in 2014 by Lonely Planet, this year’s Lake of Stars festival is sure to draw audiences from all over the continent and beyond. 

The 2014 line-up includes South African hip hop artiste Reason; Zambia’s Zone Fam; Kenyan Afro-House beats DJ Jack Rooster; Zimbabwe’s Tariro neGitare , Selmor Mtukudzi, Pearl Natasha and Band Tower; and the UK’s Cable Street Collective. They will join some of Malawi’s biggest artistes including Peter Mawanga, Sally Nyundo, Mafilika, Skeffa Chimoto, Agorosso and Piksy. 

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