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Lake of Stars music festival “the biggest and best so far”

The main stage at Lake of Stars International Arts Festival in Mangochi. Photo by Nina Lex.

Just last month, the shores of Lake Malawi filled with thousands of barefooted festival-goers from around world as the eighth annual Lake of Stars International Arts Festival took place in the Central Region of the country.

This year’s Lake of Stars was the “biggest and best festival so far,” according to the festival’s director, Tom Porter, with over 3000 people attending the three-day event.

“We put on a quality event that combines a beautiful location with a great atmosphere. There is so much creativity on show but I think it is the positive atmosphere that draws most people,” said Porter. “But we also combine the best international artists with Malawian talent and we are the only event to do that in Malawi – and one of the only in Africa.”

Ninety artists participated in this year’s festivities, including international headlining acts like South Africa’s Freshlyground and Britain’s Foals, as well as various Malawian acts, such as the Black Missionaries and Malawi/ Sweden’s The Very Best.

“We had more people than ever, more artists, more countries represented, more support from local partners – it’s been eight years of progress and I think we learn new things each year,” said Porter.

Artists were spread over three stages, and involved musicians, dancers, poets, actors and DJs, such as Goldierocks and Gemma Cairney.

“We create a platform that showcases Malawian music and culture, as well providing opportunities for local and international artists to create unique creative collaborations,” explained Porter.

Each year the festival takes place at different locations surrounding Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, and has quickly become Malawi’s number one tourist event of the year.

Inspired by Live Aid, WOMAD and Glastonbury, in 2004 William James, from Britain, set up the festival in order to elevate tourism and raise money for the country’s developing economy.

In 2010 the festival generated $1 million, with a third of that being much needed foreign currency.

The event also created hundreds of employment opportunities as well as boosting trade for local businesses. “We provide valuable work experience opportunities for young Malawian professionals to share skills and experiences with national and international counterparts,” said Porter.

Aside from the event’s economic aims, Lake of Stars also seeks to expose Malawian artists to an international audience.

“The festival presents a positive profile of Malawi to international travellers, potential investors and media, which will hopefully create longer term social and economic benefits for Malawi,” said Porter.

“There is a lot of negativity about the continent and country – so we think it is good that the project reaches beyond the shores of the lake to tell a new story based around creativity and beauty of Malawi.”

Unlike other festivals on the continent, Lake of Stars doesn’t receive funding. Instead organizers rely on sponsorship, like this year’s sponsors Access, DHL and Kenya Airway and the use of free equipment.  Furthermore, the festival counts on volunteers who contribute throughout the year and ticket sales, which cost around between $75 and $90.