Let Blantyre come to the party

Blantyre as a city has earned itself the unenviable reputation of being a place which is not so welcoming when it comes to patronising entertainment events.

In recent years, some event organisers have openly registered their displeasure at the way their organised events have been embarrassingly shunned. Some have gone a step further to declare that they will temporarily suspend any plans to hold their events in the commercial city.

I have in mind Blantyre-based Flora Suya who was given a cold reception during the launch of her second movie production Dear Pen Pal last year. Her fortunes in Blantyre were a sharp contrast of what she got in Lilongwe during a similar event days before.

The screening of Shemu Joyah’s highly acclaimed movie The Road To Sunrise at Malawi Sun Hotel was another sore. This was a time when there was high demand for the movie and the shocking patronage surprised quite many.

For some time now Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) has been running Sounds of Malawi Acoustic Nights. It is well designed programme which happens every Thursday evening at the place and it is meant to celebrate and promote traditional acoustic music.

This is yet another event which has suffered from poor patronage. When you are out there it is saddening to see how locals are outnumbered by foreign nationals. Instead of Malawians supporting the programme and celebrating their heritage, it is the visitors who take greater pride in being part of the sessions.

This is generally the trend in the city. No study has been carried out to establish as to what spurs this pattern and the space has been left to endless speculation as everybody painfully tries to make heads and tales of the situation.

Does it have anything to do with the venues in the city? It is about the financial muscle of the city dwellers? Are there so many alternative sources of entertainment in the city already? What is it really that keeps people in their homes when Kwathu Drama Group is launching a new play at Blantyre Cultural Centre?

It is sad that some observed trends, of late, have really pointed towards a scenario where Blantyre as a city is not being included in the plans of so many event organisers. They are limiting themselves to Lilongwe when holding their shows.

One such event is the Lilongwe Jazz Festival, a brainchild of guitar maestro Erik Paliani, veteran jazzman Owen Mbilizi and company, which seem to have found a warm and permanent home in Lilongwe.

It was quite unfortunate when they announced what they termed as an ‘exploratory’ tour of the Southern Region. Bluntly, they said the outcome of their planned three shows which are set for next weekend, will determine whether they should bring the Lilongwe Jazz Festival to Blantyre.

The tag which the tour has been given is not only uninspiring but also a sorry one. It shows people have the heart quite alright to include Blantyre in their programmes. But just like so many other ventures, you always need assurances that at the end of the day you will recoup your investment.

It is a give-and-take relationship. It is even very tricky for when it involves bigger events such as festivals which requires a lot of planning and accompanying administrative and overhead costs. One cannot just gamble and throw himself head and tail in a ditch which he is not sure how he is going to land. 

Is Blantyre about to become that dull, boring city which is forever dry in terms of entertainment activities? Certainly, this is not the wish of many who are associated with this great city. But the onus is on them. Let Blantyre come to the party!   n

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