Africa is a vibrant hub of music with many of its own distinctive sounds and rhythms. There is certainly plenty to attract music fans who want to experience something new. That said, the continent also has some excellent classical and jazz festivals depending on where you look. Some of the very big festivals on the continent cater for a young audience with lots of pop music. However, you can also find some more intimate music festivals that are curated for fans of particular African genres. What are the coolest ones to head to for the discerning music lover?
Highlighting everything that is cool and sophisticated about afrobeat, this annual Nigerian festival is named after the genre’s towering innovator, the multi-instrumentalist and band leader, Fela Kuti. It is put on to celebrate the great man’s birthday despite the fact that he died over twenty years ago. Expect some of the best and most danceable rhythms from modern Nigerian artists as well as those from other West African countries, like Mali and Ghana.
Sauti Za Busara
This is one of East Africa’s coolest festivals in the calendar. Staged on the sumptuous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, Sauti Za Busara takes place in February. Nearly every act that takes to the stage is African in origin and you can expect an eclectic style from performers that are both local as well as other musical traditions outside of the Tanzanian mainstream. The festival’s name literally means ‘sounds of wisdom’ which is a great title that captures the spirit of the event. Acts like El Dey, Ribab Fusion and Makadem have all performed at Sauti Za Busara in recent times.
It has only been running for a few years but the Ugandan promoters of Nyege Nyege have already carved out a reputation for themselves of putting on Africa’s leading electronic music festival. This one is staged over four days and it features some underground African sounds as well as more familiar global house and techno. It takes place in a great forest setting close to the Nile river.
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Cape Town International Jazz Festival
This South African jazz festival is among the most prestigious for musicians to be invited to in the whole continent. It takes place over a weekend in March every year and usually features elements of soul, funk, hip-hop and afropop as well as traditional genres of jazz. In recent years, internationally respected artists like Trombone Shorty have headlined the event.
Lake of Stars
With a beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Malawi, this festival blends African music with Western rock and pop. You can see some of the best European acts as well as emerging African talent at Lake of Stars. It has been running since 2004 gaining bigger and bigger audiences every time. This festival takes place towards the end of each September and now welcomes in the region of 4,000 concert-goers annually.
Festival au Désert
Because it is staged in the northern part of Mali, in West Africa, Festival au Désert really is in close proximity to the Sahara. Devoted to the desert rock guitar style of internationally renowned bands like Tinariwen, this festival attracts visitors from all over the continent as well as North America and Europe. It is put on at a venue that is close to the ancient city of Timbuktu. However, Festival au Désert has not been held in recent years, largely due to security concerns in the region. When it returns, it is sure to be one of the most hotly anticipated music festivals that Africa has to offer.
Held each year in Swaziland, Bushfire is a celebration of the entire culture of the country including its distinctive music. The southern African state may be small but it certainly punches above its weight when it comes to music. Bushfire has won numerous festival awards from around the world and it regularly attracts big name performers, such as Hugh Masakela and Faada Freddy. One of the great things about Bushfire is that it is used to generate funds for local projects so it really is something the whole community gets behind.