As we jolt to the rhythm of music in halls during music shows or break into laughter while watching movies or stage plays, for organisers, it is harvest time.
Certainly, such moments are realised after a process. Organisers engage themselves in a procedure—coming up with an idea, thinking about costs and participants—and the decisions are skewed towards better returns. It is because entertainment is business—a game of investing to make profits.
At the core of this business is patronage. However, recently, patronage at various entertainment events has been questioned and there are contrasting views. Artists blame the patrons while the fun lovers think the organisers can do better.
Nonetheless, the patterns seem to be different from city to city. In a Vox pop interview with artists, Lilongwe came out top in terms of patronising entertainment events followed by Blantyre then Mzuzu and Zomba.
However, of the 10 sampled artists eight were hard on Blantyre claiming it performs poorly in patronising shows. This is not the first time artists complain about Blantyre and many shun the city.
Another artist, Flora Suya, who plies her business under the name Neptune Productions, says she will soon give Blantyre a back and concentrate on Lilongwe where she claims the turnout is always attractive. Just a month ago, Blantyre fun lovers remained indoors as she premiered her second movie, Dear Pen Pal, at Games Underground Theatre.
“I have had many theatre shows in Blantyre and the patronage has been very poor and discouraging. I am really considering to stop holding my events in
Blantyre,” she said in an interview.
Suya argues that the same film achieved a huge turnout in Lilongwe.
“It is expensive to put up a show and it is very discouraging when people do not come in large numbers to support us,” she says.
We conducted a two-day online survey through our official Facebook page to ascertain whether Blantyre is a dying entertainment market. We sampled 30 comments from the tens of responses we got and a number of issues were raised.
The key issues were that the artists take them for granted by producing poor work while others said gate charges frustrate them.
In his comment, Stan Simsy, said artists have been letting down their followers. He points out a number of shortfalls such as artists coming late on stage.
His comment reads: “The artists should start improving themselves by bringing in innovative ideas for them to get befitting rewards. Let them up their game on service delivery and see how people will respond.”
However, Louis Kaitano III gave another perspective which many people have been raising that Blantyre is a broke city, but attributed it to the general economic status of most Malawians. He said opportunity costs limit people from spending on entertainment.
“The economy is bad. People are more focused on putting food on the table first. If you cannot manage the basic needs at your household, how can you even think of spending on entertainment?” he wondered.
The public opinion was also shared by some event organisers. Professional event organiser Emmanuel Maliro tipped artists, managers and organisers not dwell much on the economic interests when organising events.
“If the interest is just on making money, then I would say that indeed Blantyre is not an encouraging venue. I recently took Namadingo and Lawi to Mzuzu with full knowledge of how people patronise events.
“But let us also focus on how much we invest in these events. Malawians these days only patronise events that have value for money. Organisers should not expect to bring anything and think Malawians will buy in. Malawians no longer accept mediocrity.”
Mike Chilemba, Visual Arts Association of Malawi (Vaam) president, implored artists and event managers not to back-off from performing in other cities, but rather improve publicity of their events.
Chilemba said: “To me, the issue of poor patronage in Blantyre has multiple faces because we have too many entertainment centres in the city, which often hold parallel shows at once. In my view, the arrangements in Lilongwe are well designed such that shows do not clash.
“Let the artists involve serious event managers and up their game to make their events more attractive too.” n