Music festivals are the perfect combo for those who have a touch of wanderlust and a love of sound that makes you sway. What can be quite annoying though is the assumption that most of the best Festivals are at international locations such the hundreds that happen in Europe and the US every year. The truth though is that you should never underestimate the power of the African love for music. The way our bodies move it wouldn’t even be a far stretch to assume we came up with rhythm and beats. It could very well be a part of our natural instinct. To prove that fact I’m going to list some of the top African Music Festivals amongst the many out there.
1. Safaricom Jazz Festival! Let’s start at home with our very own international jazz festival. We have already mentioned the importance of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival. but just to emphasize, this year’s jazz festival will be on the 21st of February. The Safaricom International Jazz Festival is usually held in February and brings together both local and international jazz musicians.
The Safaricom Jazz Festival brings together some of the biggest acts both locally, in the region and internationally. International Jazz artists who have played at Safaricom Jazz Festival include Branford Marsalis, Jef Neve, Kirk Whalum, BWB, Kunle Ayo, Jimmy Dludlu, Hugh Masekela, Isaiah Katumwa, and other great jazz musicians.
2. Lake of Stars. Malawi’s Lake of Stars has been hailed as one of the “world’s best music festivals” in the international press. It’s held on the eye-wateringly stunning shores of Lake Malawi and offers a combination of global artists (hip-hop act and Mercury prize winners Young Fathers are playing this year), local talent, inspirational TED-style talks and colourful cultural events in the middle of one of the most beautiful countries on earth. Add to that the fact that tickets are only £45 and attendance is a bit of a no-brainer.
3. Afrikaburn. You may have heard of the Burning Man Festival which draws hundreds of thousands every year. Afrikaburn is affiliated to Burning Man and follows the same ‘Burner’ principles, but is hailed as being “Burning Man 15 years ago” – before it got too big and too popular. This is the authentic burn experience. And with ticket prices starting at just R641 (£35), it’s also far cheaper at about an eighth of the cost of Burning Man.
4. Sauti za Busara. Firstly who in their right mind would miss an opportunity to go to Zanzibar? It has always seemed like a place for adventure and memory making vibes. This event brings even more excitement to the area. Tanzania’s Sauti za Busara in the Zanzibar’s Stone Town features more than 200 artists from 32 countries. The focus here is celebrating traditional music from East Africa and beyond.
5. Hifa. Zimbabwe’s HIFA , which stands for Harare International Festival of the Arts, is the granddaddy of African music festivals and one of the biggest on the continent. Established in 1999, the festival takes place each year in late April or early May in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. The week-long festival encompasses five principal disciplines: theatre, music, dance, fine art, and poetry. Attendees can take djembe drumming lessons, take in poetry sessions, fashion shows or catch their favourite artists performing.
6. Cape Town International Jazz Festival. South Africa plays hosts to many of Africa’s big festivals including Oppikoppi, Joburg Arts Fest and Grahamstown Festival. However, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is one of the most popular and longest running. Founded in 2000, it is recognized as the fourth-largest jazz festival in the world and the largest jazz festival on the African continent. The great thing about this festival is that it features performers across a variety of genres, so there’s something for everyone. The action takes place across two huge stages.
7. Marrakesh Popular Festival of the Arts. Like South Africa, Morocco hosts a large number of festivals. The charm of the country is brought out and what else do you expect with one which has so much to offer? At the Marrakesh festival, expect to see snake charmers, fortune tellers, fire eaters and acrobats competing for your attention while you listen to traditional Moroccan music via Berber musicians, drummers and dancers.
8. Bushfire Festival. When most people think of Swaziland, they think of King Mswati and the Reed Dance. However, the capital city Mbabane puts on a thriving music festival called Bushfire. Like HIFA, Bushfire fest hosts an impressive line-up of international and local acts. The party never ends as guests have the option of camping at the festival location. Of the things that makes the fest unique is that all funds raised go back to the local communities.
9. Vic Falls carnival is the second youngest festival (after Safaricom Jazz) on the list. It began in 2011 and takes place in Victoria Falls Town, Zimbabwe. Performances take place during the evening so that guests can take advantage of the tourist capital by day by indulging in activities like white water rafting, paying a visit to the Victoria Falls, bungee jumping or visiting the museum. Although held at the very end of December, southern Africa’s rainy season, this three-day festival is the perfect way to welcome the New Year. One of the unique aspects of Vic Falls fest is the journey there. A steam train picks up attendees in South Africa, while Namibians, Tswana’s and Zambians can catch buses in their respective countries. On one night of the festival, guests are packed into the steam train which stops in the middle of a national park and hosts a DJ-fuelled dance party.
10. The Fire-Fest Route. For the ultimate experience, festival-goers can join the Firefest Route – a Southern Africa festival tour which takes place throughout May. It includes HIFA, AZGO, Fireball, Africa Day, MTN Bushfire and Safiko Musik.
You can find hundreds of other smaller festivals with a rawer vibe, a few websites and articles I would recommend you check out would be Rough Guides-Music Festivals, Go Africa/Africa Festivals, and Edition CNN.com.