Last month, the celebrated festival of music and culture Lake of Stars returned to Malawi for its 15th anniversary event, smashing all previous festival records and delivering a 3-day extravaganza that left festival goers in awe. Despite challenges including high winds and sandstorms Lake of Stars shone brightly, proving it’s worth yet again as Malawi’s leading festival.

From jazz to Christian hip hop, Afro-pop to EDM, a diverse and eclectic selection of world class and emerging musical names graced the three performance areas at Kabumba Hotel, the festival’s home for 2018.  Over 60 acts took to the stages, with homegrown talent from Malawi impressing the 5000+ capacity crowds as much as the international artists that came through for the festival. Friday night headliner Suffix silenced any critics that questioned his right to be given such a prominent slot with an inspired performance that got the large crowds in a frenzy, whipped up by an appearance by Zambia’s Mags44.

Regional headline act Sauti Sol pulled all the stops out to deliver a Saturday night show that lived up to the hype and more. From the offset, their charm, swagger and stage presence was matched only by the quality of their music, with the vast crowd singing along to every song. Sunday’s international headliners Major Lazer Soundsytem had a huge weight of expectation to live up to, and despite performing in the worst weather conditions the festival has ever seen, they delivered a set that will go down in the Lake of Stars history annals. Unbowed by the tough conditions, the crowd showed their appreciation right to the very end of a set that saw Dzaleka’s Forus dance crew join the trio on stage, t-shirts being thrown into the crowd and Diplo proudly waving a giant Malawi flag.

Alongside the headliners, many other visiting talents shone through, with special mention to British Council jazzx residency band Banou Azania; Berita, a singer songwriter originally from Zimbabwe but based in South Africa; Love Ssega who is rooted from Uganda but was raised in the UK and has a track coming out soon with Davido and his former band, Clean Bandit; and Scotland’s Be Charlotte, who performed with local hero Yesaya and spent the week collaborating with Kim of Diamonds and George Kalukusha on a special Lake of Stars project funded by Creative Scotland. Among the local acts, Lazarus, who appeared alongside Gulu Wamkule; Theo Thompson; DJ Bubblegum and Lusubilo Band soared with the flag high and put to rest the myth that Malawian acts cannot deal with the big stage.

This year’s Lake of Stars line up was also the most diverse in memory with interactive talks, poetry, dance, fashion, drama and art taking a more centre stage this year through the uber talented work of Zaluso Arts, Q Malewezi and his collection of poets and Nanzikambe Arts among others. Morning yoga and dance sessions were on hand for early-rising festival goers and Beach stage sponsor TNM offered a variety of fun and games including bawo, volleyball and tug of war. 11 food vendors provided a range of refreshments to party-weary festival goers, including freshly made chapattis from the Tumaini festival stall, delicious Sandy Sub sandwiches, fragrant Malawi coffee lattes by Cuneco Fusion and Korean cuisine. Creative touches were on display across the festival including giant illuminated LOS letters, playful graffiti art and the vibrantly painted empty swimming pool, aptly named The Deep End, which played host to Malawi’s first roller skating rink as well as DJ performances.

Festival director Will Jameson summed up the festival: “It has been an incredible three days. To witness thousands of people come together from Malawi and all over the world to celebrate as one on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi is very special indeed. Every single artist that has been part of the festival this year has brought their best self and delivered a stand-out performance.  Seeing the crowds come out, whether for one of the headliners or for a lesser known act is what Lake of Stars is about. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone that came along to the festival, to the team and our volunteers who worked so hard to make it happen and of course to our sponsors and partners who’s support has been so integral.”

For the second time the festival gates opened to over a thousand local students from Salima the day before the main festival for the Day of Ideas, a special free community event supported by the European Union in Malawi. The event explored different themes and ideas around topics including gender, nutrition, technology, science and leadership, aligning with the work that the European Union carries out with Malawi.

And in what is now a festival tradition, on day two Multichoice Malawi and Lake of Stars honoured Malawian journalistic talent for their role in publishing arts, culture, tourism, wildlife and environment stories. LOS Media Stars 2018 were awarded with beautiful trophies carved by local artisans using harvested wood.

As the festival closes on its 15th anniversary fans have taken to social media in huge numbers to share their appreciation with punter’s describing it as “an experience of a lifetime”, “Lake of Stars 2018 you were amazing” and “best one yet for sure” among the praise given.

Since 2003 Lake of Stars has generated an estimated over $8 million for the Malawian economy and reached more than 600 million people through global media coverage creating positive a tourism story from Malawi to the world. The 2018 festival was made possible by sponsors and partners: HIVOS, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, TNM, the American Embassy, Raising Malawi, Clover, Castel, FDH Bank, the German Embassy, Creative Scotland, the British Council, Malawi Tourism, Roadville Creative Agency, Kenya Airways, MBC, Biz Malawi, DSTV and Kabumba Hotel.

Source: Malawi Tourism Guide

Niyi David

‘Niyi David is a travel writer/photographer and Editor-in-Chief at More Cream Than Coffee. Previously, he worked at Afro Tourism West Africa Ltd as a travel writer, and was Head of Media and C.O.O. before leaving in May 2018. Prior to that he had worked as scriptwriter on some major media projects in Nigeria, such as 'Peak Talent Show' and the Ford Foundation sponsored 'Stop Impunity in Nigeria' campaign.