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Published: March 25th 2009
LAKE OF STARS FESTIVAL, SENGA BAY, MALAWI
One of the only things Malawi is known for in the West—besides Madonna’s adoption there which is usually the first thing people think of—is the Lake of Stars Festival, an annual music event which is held on the beach of Lake Malawi and features musicians and famous DJs from the United Kingdom primarily but also other places, including Malawi. The festival draws a huge number of tourists as well and I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t planning to go.
I hitched a ride up with my roommate Dalia and her friend Sistah Fire, who is a very famous DJ on Malawi’s biggest radio station. We were riding in the oldest car I think I have ever been in—some ancient British colonial open-air Jeep-type thing that was a lot of fun and definitely an antique. Along the way people would wave at Sistah Fire and she would respond with typical Rasta greetings. Fire was planning to DJ somewhere just outside the festival grounds so I ended up heading inside the festival gates with my friend Vusa, who very very kindly got me in for free (he has connections). Otherwise I would have had
to pay around $60 (the price for 3-day attendance) though I would only be there for a few hours!
Once inside I found all my friends, including Monica, a football teammate, Johanna, and countless others. I had met two friends visiting Malawi from the U.S. - Euler, a recent law grad like me from U Chicago and Oliver, his college buddy. They were doing a tour of Africa together before Euler started work at a law firm. But out of everyone I ran into the most remarkable encounter was running into Hamish, my Zimbabwean friend who worked at one of the hostels Eva and I had stayed at last year in Mozambique. Small world indeed. The festival was held in Senga Bay, on the grounds of the Livingstonia Hotel—one of the swankiest resorts in all of Malawi. I had been there many times to take advantage of their beach for the day, but it had been completely transformed for the festival. Grass mats were laid out as makeshift dancefloors in front of stacks of speakers, and a beautifully-lit stage featured the festival’s main performers, including Joseph Tembo, a famous Malawian singer. He was totally amazing, and drew a huge
Lake of Stars crowd
This was at the smaller dancefloor
Malawian crowd which was nice as I had been warned that the festival tended to be very heavily mzungu
oriented. I'm not a huge fan of house or rave music, which is what most of the British DJs play, but they did throw in some Rage Against the Machine and old Arrested Development which made me and some of the more, er, mature people in the crowd very happy 😊. A huge section of the beach had been set up for camping, and was so chock full of tents you could hardly pass between them. It was an absolute blast, we danced well into the night and then set up my tent on Vusa’s private beach to catch some sleep before the three of us drove back to Lilongwe that morning.
The following week my friend Maki, who works for Raising Malawi—the NGO started by Madonna to build a school for Malawian orphans—welcomed a new colleague to Lilongwe, Avik, so Dalia and I met them at Don Brioni’s. Turns out he is a fellow foodie and quasi New Yorker like me so we spent a lot of time gabbing about what culinary delights we miss most from the big
The main stage
It was so beautifully done, I was really impressed!
city. NOTE: for the sake of other travelers seeking info about Zimbabwe I am posting the next section separately, but simultaneously.
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