7 mins

How I helped organise an African music festival

Rosie Ponting wanted to give something back to Africa. So she got a job organising the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi

(Rosie Ponting)

I had just finished college and was looking for a project to keep me busy while I hunted for a job. I had fallen in love with Africa on my travels, and I’d heard BBC Radio 1’s documentary about the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi which sounded amazing and like something I really wanted to get involved with. I just pitched up at the office one day, offered to go flyering, and ended up staying for about nine months!

In the UK I worked in the office as a member of the core UK team, liaised with media and PR contacts, collated all media coverage, interviewed artists and volunteers, attended gigs and researched new ideas for the festival to progress, among many other things. Lake of Stars is staffed by such a small team of dedicated volunteers and so every day was different and presented me with a new challenge, which I loved. My role was so varied, in just one day I was a journalist, PR account manager, press officer and researcher – often all rolled into one.

It soon became clear that just being in the UK office wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to go to Malawi and actually be a part of this amazing festival that I had spent so much time working on and planning. So I saved my pennies and booked a flight to Malawi to attend and volunteer on the 2009 festival – it obviously had an impact on me because I’ve been going back every year since!

On site in Malawi I manage the Festival Control Office, training and managing a small team who deal with practical and logistical aspects of producing the festival. Inquiries can be about anything and everything, ranging from ‘The power’s gone on the main stage, can you get me some more?!’ to ‘Can you find out the football scores for me?’

We also maintain control of all radio communications, look after the event log, manage the artists’ property lock-up and provide operational support to the production team. It’s a tiring job, involving a lot of commitment. But the rewards are immense. When I get a spare two minutes I can walk out of my office onto the beach and see the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi tearing it up in front of thousands of people all having the best time of their lives – it really makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile!

But Lake of Stars has meant more to me than just getting to work with a fantastic and talented team of people, both from the UK and Malawi. I have also got to explore Malawi – the warm heart of Africa – and spend time with local people. Last year, I spent a day with other volunteers at a school in nearby Cape Maclear where we sang with the children and took part in their classes. The day ended outside organising huge, chaotic running races and piggy backs.

Similarly, I have used the experience and contacts gained to help me get a job in marketing, and coming from a journalism background, the media contacts I have made are invaluable and dealing with the media from all angles has given me a greater understanding of how the industry functions.

I continue to work with Lake of Stars, volunteering at various UK events and helping to develop ideas for the festival for the future, as well as flying to Malawi for the festival (and a little holiday afterwards) each year. I would absolutely definitely recommend volunteering, for anyone, young or old. Volunteering has not only opened doors for me to help me build my career, it has also been a lot of fun and I’ve worked with great people and made some lifelong friends.

Lake of starsThe Lake of Stars Festival will be held between 30 September – 2 October 2011. For more details visit the official Lake of Stars website.

Songline Music Tours are running a special tour to this year's Lake of Stars Festival, departing 29 September and 13 October. For more details, or to book your spot, visit Songlines Music Travel.

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