There is a sense that both the people organizing and attending the annual music festival Lake of Stars on the shore of Lake Malawi are limited to a certain well-to-do group of young Britons who are less interested in Malawian music than the kind of gigs they can attend back home. At least that seemed to be the attitude at the beginning of the three-day festival that is on its seventh year running.
Minister of Tourism and Culture, Ken Lipenga, parachuted into Sunbird Nkopola Lodge in Mangochi, giving a dramatic official kickoff to the festival on Friday night. A couple of hours after Lipenga spoke of promoting Malawian culture through events like Lake of Stars, a Malawian musician stood on the main stage of the festival and announced he was going to present the Malawian musical spirit. His words were lost to the British crowd, which was busy migrating to a side stage to hear the UK band The Noisettes play an acoustic encore.
It could have been a music festival on any beach in the world at that point, but the Zimbabwean legend, Oliver Mtukudzi, brought it back to Africa. Mtukudzi was the main event of the night, perhaps even of the whole festival. It didn’t matter that neither English or Chichewa speakers could understand his touching lyrics, every person in the festival gathered to see his lively presentation, to follow the rhythm of his guitar and mimic the energetic dance being held on stage.
“Where we come from, music is our food, where we come from. You can have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, where we come from,” said Mtukudzi to an euphoric crowd and proceeded to play some of his best tunes.
There seemed to be less people and less concessions this year compared to last, maybe because some Malawian artists who thought they were not being payed what they deserved boycotted the festival and organized their own gig not far from Mangochi. Nonetheless, there were over 20 Malawian musicians booked for the festival. Few of them received much attention from the public and were given less than great time slots.
Lake of Stars is not, as one hopeful musician put it, a festival for ‘the people’. At US$50 per ticket, even the Malawians who live nearby and would not have to worry about accommodation would find this a unattainable luxury. There were some Malawians, mostly those trying to sell food and souvenirs, who stood outside and could hear the music that echoed in the bay, but this is unequivocally a party from muzungus to muzungus.