A Community Development Project
Lake of Stars takes place at the Sunbird Nkopola Lodge on the shores of Lake Malawi. The lake itself is one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, and the palm fronds surrounding it, shelter it from the shores. Supposedly, when Scottish explorer David Livingstone reached the land-locked, sub-Saharan country (the first Westerner to do so), he commented that the ships drifting along the water at night made it look like a Lake Of Stars. Named in honor of Livingston’s description, this festival launched in 2004 and has been a local treasure ever since.
But while the nation of Malawi is often referred to as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” it’s also the 13th poorest country in the world, according to The Guardian. That’s why festival founder Will Jameson wants Lake of Stars to, in addition to it being a top-notch music festival, serve as a community development project that benefits the tourism industry.
When Jameson first visited Malawi in 1998, he was a university student at Liverpool’s John Moores University. Jameson spent six months working for The Wildlife and Environmental Society Of Malawi in Dwangwa, north of the current festival grounds. His travels inspired an award-winning club night back in Liverpool, and ultimately led Jameson to a career in the music industry.
Today, the official mission of Lake of Stars Festival is “to work in the fields of the arts, tourism and development to provide entertainment whilst developing people and places.” Other British festivals like WOMAD and Glastonbury inspired Jameson to include a charitable element, but Lake of Stars arguably has a bigger and more direct impact than those mega-fests.
Lake of Stars began with around 700 attendees and has since grown to amass crowds of nearly 4,000 people. Attendees travel from more than 30 countries each year, thus generating an estimated $1.7 million for the Malawian economy. Additionally, the festival itself donates a portion of ticket sales revenue to worthy causes like relief efforts from the recent floods.
An All-Encompassing Affair
As for the event, Lake of Stars spans three full days. Not just limited to music, it includes poetry readings, TEDx-style talks, workshops, acrobatics, theater performances, and film screenings. Plus, Lake Malawi itself is open to festival attendees for swimming, light water sports, and more.
Still, the music draws the most international attention, as Western acts like Basement Jaxx, Foals, The Maccabees, The Noisettes, and Young Fathers have all previously headlined the fest. But as Jameson and the festival organizers aim to empower the Malawian community through this event, it also highlights many local and African acts. Notable Malawian performers have included Lucius Banda, Tay Grin, and The Black Missionaries.
Currently, the festival is run by Jameson and his colleagues from the UK and Malawi. In the future, however, he hopes to have even more of the festival organization driven from within Malawi in order to continue supporting the country’s creative professionals and developing economy.