Some of the best international music festivals are held annually in African countries. From Mali to Morocco, Zanzibar to Senegal, planning a visit around one of these annual festivals is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Sauti za Busara Swahili Music Festival, Zanzibar
Sauti za Busara "Sounds of Wisdom" is one of East Africa's best cultural events. This four-day festival showcases regional music, theater and dance. It brings together people of all ages and backgrounds in celebration of the wealth and variety of Swahili culture. Performance spaces include old forts, amphitheaters and the other historic buildings that make Stone Town, Zanzibar, a unique destination. The music is paired with delicious meals of skewered meats, lovely sunsets and lots of dancing.
Where: Stone Town
Festival sur le Niger, Mali
The Festival sur le Niger is a cultural festival that celebrates the music, dance and traditions of the Segou region in Mali. The festival takes place over four days on the banks of the mighty Niger River in the ancient capital of the Bambara Kingdom. Not only is the music fantastic, but the culture and tradition of this area provide a fascinating backdrop to the festival. There are several tours that include the festival along with other country highlights. Past artists include Fema Kuti, King Mensah and Oumou Sangare.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival, South Africa
Held annually in South Africa's Mother City, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is one of the largest music events in sub-Saharan Africa and is about to celebrate its 20th year. Jazz legends from all over the world perform for just two days at the Cape Town Convention Center, with over 40 artists playing on five stages. The festival typically attracts more than 37,000 people, so advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary. International past performers range from Corinne Bailey Rae (UK) to Miles Mosley (USA).
Where: Cape Town
When: Last weekend of March/first weekend of April
Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco
Held in the imperial city of Fez, the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music allows you to bump into whirling dervishes from Iran as well as mystics, chanters and dancers from all around the world. It lasts for nine days and includes a vast array of open-air performances, some held in the afternoon in the scenic Jnan Sbil Gardens and others held at night at Bab al Makina in front of the Royal Palace. There are free concerts in other locations too as well as nightly displays of Sufi chanting. Make sure to book tickets and accommodation in advance.
Saint Louis Jazz Festival, Senegal
Founded in 1993, the Saint Louis Jazz Festival is held annually in the colorful town of Saint Louis in Senegal. It lasts for six days and sees jazz legends from all over the world come together to play in various venues throughout the town. Past musicians include Herbie Hancock, Randy Weston, and Joe Zainul. The festival is also an excellent platform for new jazz groups to perform in front of an international audience. At least 30 new groups perform each year. During the festival, Saint Louis sees an influx of around 92,000 visitors.
Where: Saint Louis
When: End of April
Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Morocco
The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival started as a celebration of gnaoua music, which combines instruments and vocals with acrobatic dancing and takes inspiration from Berber, African and Arabic cultures. Since its inception more than two decades ago, the festival has grown to include traditional musicians from all over the world. Performances last for four days and take place at various venues dotted throughout the picturesque town of Essaouira. Music aside, Essaouira is a popular seaside resort in its own right.
Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi
First held in 2004, the Lake of Stars music festival hosts artists from all over Africa and Europe. The venue is the shore of beautiful Lake Malawi, the third-largest lake in Africa. Essentially, the festival is a four-day beach party, giving visitors the chance to soak up the relaxed, safe and extremely friendly Malawian culture. The music is varied, from Afro-pop and reggae to folk and EDM. Other activities are on offer as well, including early morning yoga sessions and bawo, volleyball and tug-of-war competitions.
Where: Lake Malawi
Rocking the Daisies, South Africa
Those looking for the classic music festival experience à la Coachella or Glastonbury will find it at Rocking the Daisies. A three-day extravaganza featuring the hottest rock, pop and rap acts from South Africa and beyond, the festival is held in the breathtakingly beautiful Cape Winelands. Bring your tent, your face paint and your weirdest outfits and rock out to acts like 6lack and Wolf Alice as well as homegrown stars such as Fokofpolisiekar and Black Coffee. The festival also has a ladies'-only campsite.
Where: Cape Winelands
This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on February 14 2019.