Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf) this year made a great stride in granting op¬portunities to little known artists to perform at its fourth edition which for the first time took place at one venue – French Cultural Centre.
The festival gave a platform to a blind musi¬cian Peter Sumbulelo who is often found sitting in a pathway by Chayamba Building in Blantyre seeking money from passers-by through playing music with a harp. But Sum-bulelo was not the only benefactor, a group from Lilongwe rural known as Kaliyatsa wamudzi wa Kanyenda also performed at the festival for the first time. For them it was the first time to perform at the festival, the first time to visit the commercial city of Blantyre, the first time to perform in front of a large audience comprising of high profile officials.
The group which started in 1998 also visited the Lilongwe city for the first time on their way to Blantyre for their performance and thanks to their triumph during the Chingalire Music and Dance Festival in their area. The group comes from the area where musician Ben Mankhamba is the Village Headman and he was also excited that this group had got itself a Baf platform.
"They are excited and was the best moment for them performing in the city of in Blan¬tyre because they have never been here. They were also excited to me people who they were just hearing on the radio and to perform to such a platform, it was nice for them," says Mankhamba.
He says he did not choose them to come to Baf but he helped them get that opportunity having come out top during the competition which attracted several other groups. Chief Judge for the competition Austin Kammwam¬ba who travelled with the group, said it was a wonderful moment to see the group from their area rubbing shoulders with other well established groups but also perform in front of high profile officials.
"This is no mean achievement and we call upon festival organizers to take time by visiting the rural areas and get to find out what we do and also identify some groups which can be performing in festivals thereby representing the rural masses," he says.
Kaliyatsa Wa Mudzi Wa Kanyenda performs the traditional dance known asMganda and unlike some of the groups in the cities which also perform such dances, most of them spice it up in their own way but this group was original.
"This is what we need to be seeing and we can differentiate between a group performing a traditional dance from the rural area and the one from urban. This is culture at its best," said a fan Joseph Kumwenda. Dressed in their khaki shorts and yellow shirts, green socks and black shoes, they looked more like students but this according to James Francisco, is a uniform which they wear only for such performances and that it is also part of identifying themselves.
The group has 10 members with the youngest Smith James who is 12-years old and in standard four and he was a marvel to watch during their performance forcing Minister of Tourism and Culture Daniel Liwimbi to clap hands. Their entry on stage was even attractive as two members came in and started beating the traditional drums and later the dancers came in, the other members entering using the other side of the amphitheatre with some members moving in from the other entry. With the two members beating the drums, they made their steps, two steps forward at times and two steps backward, lifting their foot on top and forward on the other, making a turn as people gave them applause with masters of ceremonies Kenny Klips and Zambia's Precious Kawinga telling the audience they had come all the way from a village in the central region district of Lilongwe.
They matched in steps, read each other well and at one time they all blew their acoustic flutes producing a perfect sound that added colour to their Mganda dance which is simi¬lar to Malipenga from the Northern Region district of Nkhata Bay.
In their colourful Mganda dance, they showed their culture and at the same time, they showed they deserved the top position as they were not jittery despite performing at the festival and in front of such an audience for the first time.
Even during their dance, their faces were smiling, showing that they were happy with what they were doing and that they were enjoying the dance although the only shortfall was that they did not greet the audience de-spite being introduced by the masters of ceremonies. You could forgive them for that but through their dance; they surely greeted everyone and introduced themselves through their happy faces.
The group performs in weddings, installation ceremonies, rallies and other ceremonies, offering entertain-ment, adding colour to events but also preserving culture. Apart from Francisco, and James, other members of the group are Samison Banda, Simeon Sankhulani, Lastone Banda, Isaac Moyo, Cosmas Kachenga, Ma¬dalitso Medson, Chipiliro Nthambala and Bizwick Nthambala.