NDANGWA MWITTAH, Monze
ON the Ministry of Tourism and Arts website, there is a total of six listed and recognised art festivals.
These are the ‘April International Theatre Festival’ which is organised and hosted by Yezi Arts Productions and Promotions in Lusaka, the Shungunamutitima International Film Festival of Zambia (SHUNAFFoZ), a Vilole Images Productions (VIP) in Livingstone, the Barefeet Youth Arts Festival, also held in Lusaka and the Mwela Arts Festival in Kasama, Siavonga Music Festival – then there’s also the Chikuni All Tonga Music Festival in Monze.
But there is also another one – The Choma Music Festival.
It is still in its infancy but, it too, wants to go the Chikuni All Tonga Music Festival way.
But that will be a story for another day.
The All Tonga Music Festival, which is held annually at the Chikuni Community Radio ground in Monze can’t compare to any other. This two-day annual concert is the only one of its kind – well, until such a time that the Choma Music Festival, which staged its inaugural concert late last month proves to the whole world that it has come to stay.
It takes place every year in September and attracts a multitude. Over the past years, the concert has grown bigger and better; from 20 to more than 160 artistes and from a couple of a hundred to more than 12,000 spectators who come to watch the festival which has more than thirty genres.
Add to that, it has been in existence since the year 2000.
The more reason it has gained international acclaim and continues to attract even people from far and beyond.
One of the stage managers at the 2017 All Tonga Music Festival told the author that this year’s event which, was held under the theme: Masuwa Aswaangene, Taapwayi Cibiya, loosely translated as properly arranged stones, cannot break a clay pot, brought together various artistes across Southern Province to celebrate, promote and preserve the Tonga culture through arts and music.
“This is the 17th concert and just as we have been saying always, when you look at the Tonga culture, it has changed and with all the dynamics currently at play, we thought why not build on this and ensure that it lives on,” he said.
On the theme, the stage handler said, “This years is all about promoting peace and unity. It is in the spirit of One Zambia, One Nation even as we are showcasing our tradition and culture.”
Indeed, this year’s event was replete with messages of peace and unity, without swaying away from the original Tonga culture and tradition.
At some point, Mwiza Band even crafted a song, a Tonga cover of the famous Kenneth Kaunda’s Tiyende Pamodzi song.
Yvonne Ndaba is managing director at the Mukanzubo Kalinda Research Institute. She has been at the centre for many years – over 20 years actually.
She understands the value of the festival and what it means to the locals.
“We also hold this festival in order to preserve the culture of the locals. It is therefore no surprising that we have this multitude here today,” she says.
Ms Ndaba, whose Mukanzubo warriors comprising of elderly men and a mixture of girls have always been part of the festival says the music concert has the potential to not only preserve the culture, but also expose it too.
The girls from the centre are equally a marvel to watch.
For many years, 12 competition categories of traditional music have been performed. But over the years, more traditional and almost extinct music styles are being revived and performed, thanks to the value the people have placed on the festival. Participants register beforehand and their songs must be original, never having been published or recorded before.
Musicians come to perform to the crowds and are also trained on the cultural and musical values of the Tonga as well as their general lifestyle. This has led to improved performances and deliveries from the participating groups.
Over the years, seasoned performers such as the Brian Shakarongo and also the Sakala Brothers together with Mukanzubo Kalinda Research Institute have helped in the training and have raised the standards of the festival as a result.
It was therefore not surprising that the 17th All Tonga Music festival that was held on the weekend of September 8 and 9th was by far an upgrade on the previous ones.
And in terms of numbers in attendance, you have to be impressed with the Tonga Music Festival, which for several years has continued to attract thousands of spectators whose only interest is music, particularly Tonga traditional music.
This year’s saw a record 165 people battle it out for prizes in a number of categories.
That is some phenomenal growth that the festival has experienced since it was first held in 2000.
In a bid to promote the Tonga culture, the festival has broadened to include all sorts of traditional Tonga music and poetry. The use of traditional instruments is also a form of educating the young ones who are used to western musical instruments.
Some of the traditional instruments that are showcased can be intriguing to first timers at the festival.
This years’ wasn’t any different.
The two-day event starts on a Friday and ends on Saturday. It doesn’t go into Sunday because it is the day that the Catholics have reserved for worship.
Aaron Mweetwa, who travelled all the way from the Copperbelt was impressed with the festival.
“I really love the theme and how it was arrived at. At some point, we were almost being divided as a country. This gives us hope and breathes some fresh air into us actually,” he says.
Make no mistake, however, and think that it was all music!
There was also plenty of business – and there were those clever ones too.
“Just wait for the festival to end and you will see how people will be scrambling for transport. It will be hiked by almost double,” one person tipped this author.
Nonetheless, several youths talked to during the ceremony said the Music Festival was beneficial to them.
“To me, the event is important because I always come here to understand the norms and cultures of the Tonga people,” says 26-year-old Nchimunya Mudenda of Gwembe.
At this year’s festival, Mashombe Blue Jeans and Tusole Band entertained the crowds on Friday, whereas entertainment on Saturday was largely left to the Green Mamba Band and Mwiza Power Band.
There were also some periodical dances from the Mukanzubo girls and warriors. Or, and there were some white Jesuit professors from the University of Seattle in the United States in attendance at the festival.
With Brian Shakarongo not in attendance, the task of judging was left to Kezia Munzanje (chief adjudicator), Sr Euphemia Mainza, Bernard Maambo, Given Muzembo and Raphael Moonga.
In the chigome category, Davison Chizyuka came first with a score of 369, beating Namalizyi Band and Sahara Abantu Bakwe who scored 350 and 327 respectively.
Sikamunika Band took the first prize in the bukonkoolo category with a score of 346, five better than Choobe Women who scored 341 and Tuyandane Band that came out third with 334. In the kalumbu category, it was Enock Mbongwe who won with 318 points while Bartholomew Muleya came second with 293 and Armashod Ngwaama in third with 277 points.
Bina Lilly edged Rosi Kalinda and Florence Himpyali in the Kutwa category, while in the kalindula category it was Munjile Band that triumphed with 387 points over Nyanga Band and Mwiza Power Band who pulled 378 and 372 points in that order.
Other winners were Ngoma ya Mwami Ufwenuka (masabe), Junior Hampoongo (ndikiti), Michael Chibesa (twist), Kennedy Mazila (kanaambile), Samson Mweemba (kankobela), Valerio Sichunga (kusuka nsuwa), Mary Hakachowa (kuziya), Matridah Twaambo (muzembo), Mangoma Kulila (mantyaantya), Soloni Nangulu (chilimba) and Lasessa Culture (chikaabe-kaambe).
The rest were Ban a Haampongo (kalyaba), Kalitume Band (kukambilwa), Savity Tumbachaanji (ma guitor), Tubuke Band (kweema) and Oscar Mazila (lemba).