Featured
Seun Kuti at Felabration. Photo: OkayAfrica.

The 10 Best African Music Festivals

Here are ten of the best music festivals to experience across the African continent, including both established stages and newer productions.

African music, in all its genres and forms, has one of the largest congregations in the world, with millions of people both on the continent and in the diaspora celebrating their love and connection to their culture through sound. Despite the rapid digitization of our music consumption through the internet and streaming services, nothing will ever beat the experience of live music.

Music festivals have become a great inlet into the arts and cultures of the societies that host them, while offering great potential to local economies and countless business opportunities for African artists to grown their brands. Yet this pivotal part of the music experience on the continent is never really prioritized, despite the vast number of festival with diverse genres available all year round, all over Africa.

Therefore, in no particular order, here are ten African music festivals to bookmark.


Sauti za Busara

(Zanzibar, February)

"African sounds of wisdom" whistle through the air every February when Sauti Za Busara takes places in Zanzibar. Since 2003, the East African festival with 100% live music has prioritized a curated set that highlights culturally significant music, while drawing attention to the diverse range of genres existing in the middle belt of the African continent and beyond. Sauti za Busara has become a major networking and learning destination for artists as well as promoters, A&Rs; and other music industry personnel as it provides a chance to witness the best East Africa has to offer while enjoying the scenic views of Stone Town, Zanzibar. The festival has also moved towards various capacity building sessions and workshops which provide a platform for knowledge sharing among music professionals from all over the world who make the pilgrimage. In 2019, over four days and nights, the festival is expected to program 400 musical acts and host about 20,000 people.

Asa Baako

(Ghana, March)

Asa Baako engineers its programing to match the unique and rejuvenating environment of Busua in the Western Region of Ghana, where the thick tropical rain forest meets the sea, producing miles of white sand beaches. The five-day festival is a get away from the stress of city life aimed at rejuvenating through music, blended with sports and lifestyle activities like surfing, beach sports, canoeing, yoga, historical tours, fishing, and more. Coinciding with Ghana's Independence Day Weekend in the first week of March, the festival typically attracts about 2,000 local and foreign visitors to party day and night on the beaches and rainforest around "one dance."

Cape Town Jazz Festival

(South Africa, March)

The grand Cape Town Jazz Festival is definitely a must see music festival on the continent, even if you're not into jazz music. Proudly one of the largest music events in Africa, the festival takes place over 2 days at the tail end of March and features a star studded line-up of global Jazz stars. However, the festival has moved beyond the original name genre to features acts from diverse fields of expression such as hip hop, experimental, pop, afrobeats etc. Cape Town Jazz Festival also has a well develop infrastructure to host various capacity building workshop sessions for artists, photographers, videographers, music label executives, journalist and students.

Bush Fire Festival

(Swaziland, May)

The flames of the Bush Fire Festival in eSwantini have spread all over the world making it one of the most idolized music festivals, attracting about 26,000 people each year from over 60 countries to the Southern African nation. Bush Fire Festival is hosted at House on Fire in the farmlands of the Malkerns Valley, set in the midst of the Mzimba mountains, offering visitors the chance to take in the dream-like views through a camping experience. The rapidly growing festival is a perfect excuse to dive into eSwantini culture through the crafts and food markets at the festival whilst enjoying a mostly Southern African music line-up with sprinkles of afrobeats, hip hop, jazz and soul.

Nyege Nyege Festival

(Uganda, August)

Nyege Nyege Festival is just in its fourth year but has already started turning heads all over the continent. Set in a forest right by the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda, the 4-day East African music festival is now home to some of the best electronic music stages on the continent as it fuses underground and gritty electro-pop with global house and pop grooves through all-day performances by the banks of the Nile and parties through the night in the deep forest. Nyege Nyege is an exciting prospect to put on your list as its reputation for putting on the freshest electronic music keeps growing, making it one of the best places to discover new and classic African electronic music.

Oppikoppi

(South Africa, August)

Oppikoppi is another giant of the southern African music touring circuit which still maintains its rock music core despite expanding the sonic palate of the 24-year-old festival towards soul, jazz, house and pop music. This epic festival takes places over 3 jam-packed days on a farm near the mining town of Northam in South Africa with seven musical stages feeding the 20,000 people who make the pilgrimage each August. A rite of passage for hardcore African music fans, Oppikoppi was key to popularizing live rock music in South Africa and continues to be one of the best platforms to experience the bliss of innovation in the realms of experimental sound.

Felabration

(Nigeria, October)

Felabration was born out of the urgent need to celebrate one of the greatest African songwriters of all time, Fela Kuti. The 11-year-old afrobeat festival, held each year in October to mark Fela's birthday, is one stop that you cannot miss on your pilgrimage. Hosted at the New Afrika Shrine, Lagos, the festival brings together a host of artists who either contributed to the birth of Fela Kuti's distinct style or were inspired by his wizardry with music and courage with social issue to craft their own sound. Felabration is a must see because it takes you to the home of one of the most ingenious and popular forms of African music: afrobeat.

Festival au Désert

(Mali)

The nomadic Toaureg of the Sahara desert have mastered the acoustic blues guitar like no one else on this planet to create the much adored genre, desert rock. Bands like Terakaft and Tinariwen have shown the world the blissfully powerful stories of the lives of desert nomads through soulful blues melodies and Festival au Désert is the home of this sounds. Starting in the outskirts of the historical town of Timbouktu in Mali, the festival is home to the range of musical expression that exists among various ethnic groups that inhabit the Sahara desert. Festival au desert is currently on a hiatus due to various security issues in the region.

Lake of Stars

(Malawi, September)

Malawi's Lake of Stars Festival is another African music festival that has become a site of global music pilgrimage over the years. The shores of Africa's third largest lake, Lake Malawi cradles the highly-rated three-day celebration of music and that has been taking place annually since 2004 and attracts about 4,000 visitors from all over the world. Like Bush Fire Festival, Lake of Stars is the primary exposition of Malawian culture, with the festival using the love of music as the main artery to feed the world the wealth of creative expression coming from the country.

Sabolai Radio Music Festival

(Ghana, December)

Sabolai Radio Music Festival is the sacred shrine of independent experimental music in Accra, Ghana. The festival, which started as Indie Fuse before rebranding as Sabolai Radio, continues to provide an alternative to the dozens of entertainment activities that take place during the festive season in Accra by bringing the freshest talents in the underground music scene, from traditional folk to rock music and Hausa rap, to showcase their work. Sabolai Radio is engineered to reward the hustle and ingenuity of creating alternative music in a climate that does not support its growth by providing a platform for its exposition. Indeed, many global afrobeats artists today such as Mr Eazi and Juls have auditioned their new sound on the Sabolai Radio stage.

Notable Mentions: Rocking the Daisies (South Africa), Festival Sur le Niger (Mali), Oasis Festival (Morocco), Safiko (Reunion Island), Blankets and Wine (Kenya),



--

Written by: Hakeem Adam

Photos

This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

Keep reading... Show less
Film
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!

popular

Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.