Malawi became an independent State on July 6 1964. When the black, red and gree, National flag with a rising sun on the black background was raised. It replaced the Union Jack (British flag).
Since then, July 6 every year is celebration time. This year Malawi marks 55th Independence Anniversary. However, there are changes in the way Malawians celebrate Independence Day today. Those who were around in the one-party era will recall how Independence Day was commemorated.
Between 1964 and 1993, music, traditional dances and merry-making took centre stage. The parties were thrown from area, district, regional to national level; Malawians danced, sang and celebrated the day. Entertainment was the order of the day.
Fast forward the multiparty era, things are no longer the same. National prayers are taking centre stage with government officials and other prominent members of society attending. To the common man, life is normal and probably the only thing reminding Malawians that its Independence Day is the public holiday.
So, how are artists taking advantage of this gap?
Eric Mabedi, director of Kwathu Drama Group said: “As Kwathu we take advantage of the public holiday to entertain Malawians because we are aware that things are no longer the same.
“People, especially in the rural areas do not have anything to do during this public holiday so we come in to stage some of our productions.”
He said that this year the tradition is the same as Kwathu takes their play, Aneneri Onyenga, to Rivonia Lodge in Phalombe before taking the same play to Blantyre Cultural Centre on Sunday.
“You know these days the Independence Day celebrations go almost unnoticed save for the public holiday. As Kwathu, we have made it our responsibility to entertain and celebrate with Malawians in our own small way by holding shows,” said Mabedi.
Commenting on the issue, Ras Ray Harawa, who manages the Black Missionaries Band, said while it is true that these days Malawians no longer celebrate Independence Day the way they used to, musicians are not exploiting the gap.
He said: “I think it is safe to say music has always been the centre of Independence Day celebrations. The only difference is that this time around musicians are planning the shows themselves unlike in the past when everything was planned by government.”
He said that Black Missionaries, will be at Kabumba Hotel on Independence Day.
“As Black Missionaries we will be performing at Kabumba Hotel with Lucius Banda and Zembani Band plus other artists,” said Harawa.
He said on Sunday Ma Blacks will be in Lilongwe while on Friday they will perform at Linde Motel.
Everess Phiri, a retired primary school teacher, recalled Independence Day celebrations used to be all about traditional dances, music and other entertaining activities.
“Actually we used to plan, rehearse for months in advance,” she said.
Phiri said as a teacher those days she was responsible for organising primary school pupils taking part in the celebrations.
“We taught them how to dance traditional dances such as Mwinoghe and Mbotosya. Ankatitchula kuti ndife ma born free. Not anymore,” she said.
Lilian Kachingwe, now 32, says during her time as a primary school pupil, Independence Day celebrations were a time to have fun.
“We used to participate in ‘rally’ activities. We were trained for weeks about our dance moves to music played by the police band and sometimes by ourselves using drums,” she said.
In the end as things have changed during the multiparty era, and with economic hardships, only national prayers are taking centre stage. This year as Malawi celebrates 55 years of independence, national prayers will take place at Kamuzu Stadium.
As Malawians celebrate the day tomorrow, memories of how the day used to be celebrated continue to linger in the minds of those who were there. n