Lake of Stars: Malawi’s Primier Music & Arts Festival

Malawians love music, dancing and food. This truism manifests itself in Malawian culture in countless ways. Prime example: the Lake of Stars Music & Arts Festival.

There are few things in this life that can beat a good festival. There are even fewer that beat a great one. I go safely out on a limb here when I say Lake of Stars is a great one. With no reservations, Lake of Stars is a premier music and arts festival, showcasing the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ and its musical and artistic brilliance in a vivacious, beautiful atmosphere.

Lake of Stars was held on September 26 — 28th in Mangochi, a district located in the southern region of Malawi at the southern approach to where Lake Malawi feeds the Shire River along the Great Rift Valley. Situated on the white sands of Lake Malawi, the festival derives its name from the many fishing boats that can be seen stoking fires on the lake to draw fish to their lines and nets at night. Juxtapose this marvelous lake vista onto the absolutely breathtaking backdrop spectacle of an African twilight and the whole transcendent experience becomes a celestial bombardment of the senses.

The venue was at the Sunbird Nkopola Lodge, a top notch resort. The festival boasted three stages, one main stage and two auxiliary stages. The award-winning festival attracts entertainers from all over the world but showcases Malawian and sub-Saharan African artists specifically.

Lake of Stars was on my radar long before I even set foot in Malawi. Being a lackluster but passionate noise-making musician myself, I am naturally drawn to live music concerts and festivals. Lake of Stars has been billed as one of the best and I was curious to see what all the hoopla was about. I was quick to scoop up a ticket on my return trip from South Africa. I felt like Charlie parading around with the Golden Ticket.

A large group of fellow Volunteers were all on the same wavelength as me. Thanks to the hard work and careful planning of a lovely few, accommodations and logistics for the nearly fifty PCVs (and friends) attending were conjured up. Instead of staying at the Sunbird Lodge, we were able to book a beautiful lake house about fifteen kilometers north of the venue. We would have full run of the place.

I couldn’t have asked for more. Everything was perfect.

Many were able to stay in dorm-style quarters inside the two buildings that were in this enclosed, beachfront compound. I vied to sleep out in my tent where the cool breeze blowing off the lake could soothe me. The ebbing-and-flowing of the tide could be my bedtime lullaby.

The main house building had a large, fully-stocked kitchen (in terms of pots, pans, silverware, etc.) with running water, a fridge and gas stove. We all took full advantage of these luxury amenities! The house always smelled of delicious food. Per usual, good food and good people makes for good conversation. I found myself wanting to cook — not because I was exceptionally hungry — but rather because of the splendid banter that aroused! The one day I prepared five mini-meals before kicking rocks to the festival. I wasn’t mad about it.

We played frisbee, swam, laid out on a catamaran, played cards, listened to music, read, journaled, paddled a kayak around, cooked food, ran, did yoga, fished, shot the breeze and genuinely enjoyed ourselves and each other.

Arranged for us was a flatbed truck to cart us to the venue at various times throughout the day. When critical mass was reached, we dog piled into the back and made the short skip to the venue.

Upon arriving to the venue, we were ushered into the parking area where we unloaded. Before reaching the main gate, vendors in makeshift shops peddled the usual Malawian fare: fried chicken and chips, maize, Fanta and Cokes, African woodworks, art and jewelry as well cold adult beverages. Some vendors were more upscale than others, offering organic dishes, spins on American classics and a variety of cocktails. It was nice having these vendors nearby because their prices (depending where you went) were typically much lower than the prices within the main gate. Why pay more for the same?

After exchanging our ticket for a bracelet, we made our way through the main gate where we immediately kicked off our sandals and dug our toes into the warm sand.

Off to the left were bathrooms (that I thought were remarkably well kept) and the smallest of the three stages surrounded by upscale restaurants offering a wide range of dishes. I didn’t hesitate when I caught wind that there were cheeseburgers available — I ate five of them throughout the duration of the festival.

In front of us were the sponsors’ booths — greeting us with their fun marketing schemes, including this:

Off slightly to the right and facing the lake was the main stage where DJs would spin tracks until the live performances started at sun down. Beyond the main stage was a large, well-stocked bar and then a series of small villas (as well as the Lodges’ main buildings and hotel rooms) for festival-goers that were paying for accommodation. Beyond that was the second stage where I spent considerable time.

This was my favorite stage. It hosted mostly acts from abroad including a Scottish group called ‘Lake of Scots’ (a play on the Festivals’ name) who just killed it playing amazing covers of fantastic songs. I brought my harmonica along to get in on the knee-slappin’ fun. It took a week to fully regain my voice. What a riot.

I was dismayed when they shut this stage down from live bands to put on a peculiar DJ early in the night — festival organizers take heed: this stage should be dedicated to live bands with good energy and a feel for popular, international music. It was a nice break from the big band, hip-hop/reggae/club inspired entertainment being featured on the main stage. Sometimes, one just wants to chill and sing-along rather than get rowdy and fist pump.

Off to the right was the panoramic view of Lake Malawi in all of its remarkable splendor. Mere words and a picture fail to capture its majesty at night. With the lights from the festival, fires on the horizon and the stars and moon all twinkling off the wrinkles in the placid water, one must pinch themselves back to reality.

I’m definitely attending next year. Perhaps I’ll volunteer to work it.

Thanks for reading and thanks for all the fish! Stayed tuned for safari adventures.

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One response to “Lake of Stars: Malawi’s Primier Music & Arts Festival

  1. Pingback: African Safari: Game Count and Other Adventures (Pictures) | Circle of Life Malawi | A Peace Corps Chronicle·

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