Why BAF baffled again

Good people, Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF)was back at its traditional venue in the commercial city at the weekend.

Obviously, the three-day comeback series at the neglected Blantyre Cultural Centre was not just about ending a two-year hiatus.

Two summers without the festival that once brought forth Zimbabwe’s mbira legend Oliver Mtukudzi, Mali’s Afro-jazz maestro Salif Keita and Jamaica’s top dub poet Mutabaruka was too long a break for seekers of quality entertainment.

Uniquely, this year’s edition was purely local.

Local is lekker, South Africans say.

Surely,  there is nothing wrong with assembling a festival playlist entirely comprising homegrown talent that is often pushed to some small stage when renowned imports come calling.

But there was no big stage for the local headliners.

They had to do with a ramshackle stage resembling a crudely pitched political podium at an unknown pauper’s funeral in the countryside.

The sheeting on the roof was not only dirty, but also wrinkled as if a scavenger had just plucked it from a deserved retirement in some dumpsite.

The hands that built the rickety stage to shield the artists from the searing sun of Blantyre failed to prove why they were entrusted with the job at what was supposed to be a melting pot of everything arty about the festival’s hometown.

Poor artisans deserve no hammer in an artists’ paradise.

After three days of noisy music, some concerned artists say the base of the stage was so shaky that they felt like jumpy kids bouncing perilously on a half-heartedly inflated jumping castle on the rocks.

This is the sad story: what looked like the country’s most promising indigenous arts festival previously is fledging into a potential disaster that needs to be averted now.

But the standards were already waning five years ago when Keita stopped the music to protest noisy sound output and lack of basic instruments the organisers were supposed to source.

Local artists rarely complain as much. When they do, their prayers are loudly ignored by mortal gods.

What the audience endured throughout the BAF weekend was a festival of mediocrity, a good example of how those who claim to be arts promoters subject Malawian artists to risky working conditions.

Toiling in an injurious world of work calls for requisite insurance or guarantees for compensations.

The big question is: Do the festival supremos who could not create a decent stage have enough payouts for artists who risked their all to make the makeshift event happen?

But the shoddy shed perfectly depict the fall of a promising festival concept begotten to expose something good about its hometown.

It is no surprise that the audience is waning too.

People need a good reason to spend their money and time at BAF and any other festival whatsoever.

Like the continent’s noteworthy speaker and brand strategist Thebe Ikalafeng stated in Mangochi on Friday, the best marketing line for any business is simply “you can trust us”.

He warned: “Your brand is what people say you are when you are out of the room. If you cannot be trusted,  you will be kicked out of business.”

Fortunately,  Thom Chibambo and company are old enough to realise that it takes many years to build a reputation and just a silly slip to wreck it all.

Someone, no one but the brains behind the capitulation festival, can save its standing in the minds of right thinking fun-seekers.

The road to recovery started the same Sunday evening the public entertainment disaster ended.

Show me a donor who treasures being associated with mediocrity and it will be difficult to figure out why it was difficult to lure back the good ole international partners to fly in reputable outfits from abroad. n


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