At some point in life, every average person wants to leave a legacy after they die.
However, certain stories and contributions of people are left untold due to the growing tendency of honouring them when they die. It seems the principle is “die first, and you will be honoured”.
The entertainment, visual arts and culture sectors are some of the sectors that have remarkable people who have immensely contributed to this country, but for some inexplicable reasons these people will be recognised when they die.
However, the need to celebrate the works and contributions of the living legends in Malawi cannot be overemphasised.
One of such inspirational story is about a man who has been at the helm of the country’s arts and culture for over 40 years. This man is Bernard Kwilimbe who recently retired from his position as administrator of culture in the Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture.
In an interview, Kwilimbe hinted that “it is not over until it is over”, meaning his retirement is a new era of greater things as far as issues to do with arts and cultural promotion are concerned in the country.
Despite being bound to a wheel chair as a result of a medical condition, which required his legs to be amputated, Kwilimbe describes himself as “a man on the move”.
“I can still dance, think and fully participate in issues of national importance such as the promotion of culture,” said Kwilimbe.
He officially retired on September 1, but Kwilimbe was quick to point out that his retirement has changed nothing regarding his beliefs, work and plans for the arts and culture in the country.
Kwilimbe is one of the rare people whose story and contributions to the country can be told from different angles. Most importantly, he has an influential story that could inspire budding artists and probably change the way some people perceive arts and culture in the country, even across the borders.
In a nutshell, Kwilimbe is a man who sacrificed his teaching profession for the love of culture at the age of 21. He was and still is a multitalented person who excelled in different areas, including music, dance and even cultural expressions.
“I dumped the teaching profession in 1987 to fulfil my passion for the arts and culture. All along I wanted to associate myself with issues to do with culture,” he recalls.
Kwilimbe ventured into an arts and cultural related career in 1987 through the Malawi National Cultural Dance Troupe. He recalls that the group comprised about 40 members at his time of joining; 22 men and 18 women.
He assumed a role of choreographer and globe-trotted with the Malawi National Cultural Dance Troupe. He described his experience with the grouping as “wonderful”.
“I don’t regret any moment spent with the Malawi National Cultural Dance Troupe because I loved and enjoyed what I was doing,” said Kwilimbe.
The ethnologist’s artistic life is incomplete without the mention of a 12-year spell with a Lilongwe Hotel resident band, which played good oldies to revellers of diverse backgrounds. This is apart from releasing and teaching music and instruments to other people, including his own children.
Kwilimbe gives a picture of his life’s journey as simply a culturally conscious ride.
“Frankly speaking, it’s been a wonderful journey which has kept me mindful of my foundation, village and artistic life as a musician and choreographer, college life and up to the rank of arts administrator,” he said.
He singles out passion as the most significant element which kept his feet deeply rooted in culture.
“I am passionate about culture. I recall very well that people used to laugh at me when I dumped my teacher profession to concentrate on my life-long ambition. But that did not shake me up because I knew wanted to achieve at the end of the day,” said Kwilimbe.
There is no denying Kwilimbe’s affirmation that he is an enthusiastic cultural person and promoter if his school of art in Lilongwe is anything to go by. This is one of his great contributions to Malawi society, which currently breeding tomorrow’s generation of arts and culture activists and enterprise.
Apart from the arts and leadership school, Kwilimbe has also been championing traditional cultural expressions into art and training people on rhythm and dance, among other core duties of his calling as a promoter of arts and culture in the country.
Kwilimbe describes himself as witty, tactful and organised when it comes to dealing with issues of arts and culture in the country; hence, a staunch belief that his ideas are feasible.
He, however, ruled out facing challenges in his career, saying he saw several opportunities in what other people perceived as challenges.
“I was the only lucky artist who was able to take talent to the office. What an opportunity!” said Kwilimbe.
He refused to be drag on issues such as Cultural Policy, which has stagnated at the Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture and choked the development of the country’s arts, culture and creative industries. He simply said: “What Malawi serious needs is harmonisation of policies.”
Kwilimbe says his current focus is on helping to build an informed Malawi, saying people need vigorous civic education to acquire knowledge.
Commenting on Kwilimbe’s retirement, director of culture in the Ministry of Information and Tourism Elizabeth Gomani Chindebvu described him as a reliable.
“He was diligent and dedicated. Bernard was also on time with assignments,” said Chindebvu briefly.