Malawi comes from the Maravi, a Bantu tribe that came to the country from the southern Congo in the 15th century. They reached what is now Lake Malawi and divided into two groups. One moved south and became the Chewa group, and the other moved to southern Malawi and are the ancestors of today’s Nyanja tribe. Over the years conflict and migration stood in the way of the creation of a cohesive Malawian society, but there is now no major inter-ethnic friction. Regional divisions are still seen, but the idea of a Malawian nationality has begun to form.
Between 1964 and 2010 the flag had three equal horizontal stripes of black, red and green with a red rising sun on the centre of the black stripe. The black represented African people, red the blood of martyres for freedom and green for the ever-green nature of the country. The flag was changed in 2010 and the red sun replaced with a full white sun to signify the country’s economic development.
Dance is a strong part of Malawi’s culture. The National Dance Troupe formed in 1987 and traditional dances are seen at rituals, marriages and initiation rites. Football is the most common sport and was introduced when Malawi was under British colonial rule, but basketball is becoming more popular.
Indigenous ethnic groups have a tradition of basketry and mask carving and their products are used in ceremonies. In the urban areas wood carvings and oil paintings are prevalent and pieces are sold to tourists. Poet Jack Mapanie, history and fiction writer Paul Zeleza and authors including Felix Mnthali, Frank Chipasula, David Rubadiri and Legson Kayira hail from Malawi.
Music in Malawi has been influenced by British, African and American culture. Malawians are travellers and migrant workers across Africa so their music has spread throughout the continent. World War II was a significant period of musical blending and by the end of the war guitar and banjo duos were the most popular dance bands. When Banda was in power the arts were repressed and censored and music was restricted to that praising Banda and non-controversial and non-political messages. When the democratic process changed Malawian music began to grow and artists could practice publicly.
Types of music include:
- Kwela – Popular in the late 1960s Malawi produced many kwela stars. The word in Chichewa means “to climb”.
- Jazz – This has little in common with American jazz. Rural musicians play acoustic instruments and jazz concerts are common throughout the country. Sunday Jazz is a particularly popular event in hotels.
- Kwasa kwasa – This is influence by music from the 1980s from the Congo.
- Hip-Hop and rap – Urban music in Malawi really took off with the group Real Elements who brought an urban American sound to the country with Chichewa lyrics.
- Gospel – One of the most popular types of music, inspired in large parts by the Pope’s visit in 1989.
- R&B – The R&B scene in Malawi is growing, with many up and coming artists.
- Reggae – This has always been popular in Malawi and musicians play songs of resistance and struggle, injustice, corruption and equality.
Lake of Stars Music Festival
Lake of Stars is a four-day music festival that is held on the shores of Lake Malawi. The name comes from the romantic nickname for the lake which was given by explorer David Livingstone. The festival first took place in October 2004 and was founded by Will Jameson. He wanted a way to raise money, promote Malawi as a tourist destination and give Malawian musicians some international exposure. He had visited Malawi in 1998 as a Wildlife Society volunteer and launched the festival while at university in Liverpool. Groove Armada’s Andy Cato was the first headline act and the festival won the Malawi Tourism Award in its first year.
Music types at the festival are diverse, from Afropop and reggae to folk and beat-boxers. In the first year there were 1,200 attendees, and this grew to 3,000 in 2008. National young volunteers service vinspired started to sponsor the festival in 2009.
The festival has four main pillars; music, travel, charity and development. The aim of the event is to unite diverse music and cultures in an international gathering of talents. Lake of Stars not only promotes Malawian music and tourism but also raises funds for charity and supports projects in the area.
The very first festival took place at the Chintheche Inn on the north-west shore of the lake. Around 700 people attended.
Held in the same place, the festival grew in the following year with 1,000 people in attendance. Felix B of Basement Jaxx and DJ Yoda were the headline acts. The event generated more than £100,000 for the economy.
Again held at Chintheche Inn, 1,200 people attended Lake of Stars in 2006. The minister of tourism opened the festival and pre-events took place in London, Liverpool, Cape Town and Johannesburg to further raise the profile of the event.
In 2007 some 1,500 people came to the festival at Chintheche Inn. Annie Mac from BBC Radio 1, Rodney P and Skitz from 1Xtra and Malawian artist Lucius Banda were the headliners. The festival raised more than £4,600 for UNICEF initiatives in the country, and once again Lake of Stars events took place across Africa and the UK before and after the main festival.
In 2008 the festival moved to Senga Bay and it was attended by 2,500 people. Acts included Scratch Perverts, BBC Radio 1’s Mary Anne Hobbs, Man Like Me, Fabric’s Ali B play and local African acts.
The 2009 festival took place at Sunbird Nkopola Lodge in southern Malawi with headliners The Maccabees, SWAY, Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, Radioclit presents The Very Best, Tayo, Radio 1’s Nihal, Fabric’s Ali B, Ross Allen and Dekker & Johan.
< Return to the Malawi News Homepage