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Africa's Best Music Festivals

Music Festivals in Africa Worth Planning Your Trip Around

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My selection of Africa's best music festivals includes the Festival au Desert in Mali, the World Sacred music festival in Fez (Morocco), Sauti za Busara Music Festival in Zanzibar and many more. Planning your trip around a music festival is a great excuse to travel to some of Africa's most exciting destinations and enjoy a fantastic cultural event with people from all over the world.

The festivals are listed in order per calendar month, so it's easy to know when to go.

1. Festival au Desert (Essakane, Mali)

Touareg men, Timbuktu, Mali
Getty Images/Peter Adams

Three days of traditional Touareg art, music and dance takes place in Essakane, 2 hours from Timbuktu, Mali. International acts from Europe and West Africa round out the festivities. Everyone camps in the desert with their camels close at hand. A truly unique cultural event that is well worth the trek. In 2013, due to unrest in Timbuktu, the show is going on the road in true nomad style. The "Western Caravan" will start in February 2013, check the official web site for final dates and locations. Taking a tour is highly recommended because of the somewhat volatile situation in Mali.

Where: Bamako & Segou, Mali
When: February - March (2013)
Official Web Site: Festival au Desert
What's it Like?: Audio Slideshow - (Time magazine)

2. Sauti za Busara Swahili Music Festival (Stonetown, Zanzibar)

Sauti za Busara
Sauti za Busara

Sauti za Busara "Sounds of Wisdom" is one of East Africa's best cultural events. This six-day festival showcases regional music, theatre 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, ampitheaters and other historic buildings that makes Stonetown a unique destination. The music is paired with delicious skewered meats, lovely sunsets and lots of dancing. If you're interested in a tour that includes the festival click here

Where: Stonetown and Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar ,Tanzania
When: 14 - 17 February (2013)
Official Web Site: Sauti za Busara
What's it Like? - Video highlights from 2010 Sauti za Busara Festival

3. Festival sur le Niger (Segou, Mali)

The Festival sur le Niger is a cultural festival that celebrates the music, dance and tradition 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 provides a fascinating backdrop to the festival. There are several tours that include the festival along with other country highlights. Musicians that have played in past festivals include Fema Kuti, King Mensah, Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangare and many more.

Where: Segou, Mali
When: 12 - 17 February (2013)
Official Web Site: Festival sur le Niger
What's it Like? - 2007 festival highlights

4. Cape Town International Jazz Festival (Cape Town, South Africa)

Jazz Musician, South Africa
South Africa Tourism

Southern Africa's biggest jazz festival is held annually in Cape Town, South Africa. Jazz legends from all over the world perform for just two days at the convention center. More than 30,000 people have attended past festivals, so advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary. Over forty artists play on five stages during the two day event, and they include many of the Jazz greats as well as local South African talent. Check out more information about the 2011 Cape Town Jazz festival.

Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: 5 - 6 April (2013)
Official Web Site: Cape Town Jazz Festival
What's it Like? - Cape Town Jazz Festival 2010 - CNN News Clip

5. Saint Louis Jazz Festival (St Louis, Senegal)

St Louis Jazz Festival, Senegal
St Louis Jazz Festival, Senegal

The Saint Louis Jazz Festival is held annually in the colorful town of Saint Louis in Senegal. Jazz legends from all over the world come together to play in various venues throughout the town. Past musicians who took part in the festival include Herbie Hancock, Randy Weston, and Joe Zainul. The festival is also an excellent platform for new jazz groups to perform infront of an international audience. At least 30 new groups perform each year. You can enjoy a cruise down the Senegal River as a part of a tour that includes tickets and accommodation at the festival..

Where: Saint-Louis, Senegal
When: May 24 - 28 (2012) (sometimes held in June)
Official Web Site: Saint Louis Jazz Festival

6. Fes Festival of World Sacred Music (Fes, Morocco)

Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

This wonderful spiritual festival, held annually in Fes, allows you to bump into whirling dervishes from Iran as well as mystics, chanters and dancers from all around the world. A festival celebrating the local culture of Fes is held concurrently. Both festivals allow visitors a wonderful insight into traditional life in the old walled city. Sip some mint tea, enjoy sufi chanting and of course all that delicious Moroccan food.

Where: Fes, Morocco
When: 7 - 15 June (2013)
Official Web Site: Fes World Sacred Music
What's It Like? Video of the 2007 festival highlights

7. Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival (Essaouria, Morocco)

Gnawa Musicians, Morocco
CC

A music festival based on the traditions of Gnaoua music has grown to include musicians from all over the world. This successful annual festival has been around for a decade and venues are dotted all around the picturesque town of Essaouira. Here's a tour if you would like to join in the fun as a group. Gnaoua music is a combination of acrobatic dancing as well as music. Its origins lie in a unique mixture of Berber, African and Arabic songs, religious rites and dance.

Where: Essaouira, Morocco
When: 20 - 23 June (2013)
Official Web Site: Festival Gnaoua
What's it Like? - Gnaoua Music Festival video 2011, - Euronews report

8. Lake of Stars Festival (Lake Malawi, Malawi)

Lake of Stars Music Festival

First held in 2004, the lake of Stars music festival hosts artists from all over Malawi as well as abroad. The venue is the beautiful Lake Malawi shore. It's basically a 4 day beach party basking in the relaxed, safe and extremely friendly Malawian culture. Cheap flights are available from Britain for those attending the event and there are several tours that will take care of tickets and accommodation. The music is varied, from afro-pop, reggae, folk and DJ's playing everything in between. The festival helps raise money for local charities and also promotes tourism to Malawi.

Where: Mangochi, Lake Malawi, Malawi
When: Sept/October 2013
Official Web Site: Lake of Stars
What's it Like? - Lake of Stars 2010 Video Trailer

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