Best Music Festivals in Africa for 2014
Words by Kati Auld, Pics by Kati Auld, Sarah Duff, Lauren Edwards, Mary Honnet & Tyson Jopson
Want to spend your year careening from one crazy music festival to the next, while getting a taste of different African countries? Don’t we all. From the shores of Lake Malawi to an ancient fort in Zanzibar, here’s a selection of great music festivals in Africa that should be in your sights this year. If you’re keeping it local, have a look at these top South African music festivals.
1. Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar (13 – 16 February)
Full disclosure: I haven’t visited this festival yet, but seeing as it was recommended to me by Jiggs Thorne (Bushfire’s director) it’s catapulted to the top of the list. There’s also the fact that Stonetown is the warm and spicy heart of Zanzibar, and holds more appeal than any number of paradise beaches scrubbed clean of local culture. A maze of alleys, roving Vespas, hot chapatti, date jam and muezzins makes it a great place to just hunker down and learn Swahili. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to music at the Old Fort, the main venue of Busara, and the acoustics of the 17th Century amphitheatre are something to be witnessed.
Sunset over Stonetown
2. Sakifo, Réunion (23 – 25 May)
Réunion - land of rum, adrenalin, bougainvillea and ancient pirate graves (read: 5 reasons why Réunion rocks). Sakifo Musik is one of the festivals on the Fire Fest Route, an awesome new collaboration of festivals around Southern Africa sharing resources and giving local artists exposure outside of their home countries. You should probably brush up your French before heading off: but if you don’t have any, a big smile and wild gesticulating should be fine.
3. HIFA, Zimbabwe (29 April – 4 May)
HIFA is the grand daddy of African music festivals, which is surprising given the turbulent political seas it has sailed. Imagine the kind of determination it takes to organise an event for thousands of people when there isn’t food on supermarket shelves. Somehow, the magicians of HIFA have kept it going since 1999 (because art is the best kind of dissent) turning it into a world-class festival that showcases Zimabwean musicians, crafts, and enthusiasm. The saddest thing, however, is that it always overlaps with Afrikaburn, causing me to have a heart-rending dilemma to solve every year.
Artwork at Afrikaburn 2012
4. Afrikaburn (28 April – 4 May)
Once you’ve been to Afrikaburn, there will always be a little corner of your heart that’s homesick for it (read: 10 things I'll miss about Afrikaburn). It’s many things: a community based on a gift-giving economy, an art exhibition, an exercise in self-reliance in the middle of a desert, and a big, big party. It’s also a massive commitment. Tickets sell out in a matter of seconds, and then you spend months getting your crew, camp, costumes, and artworks in order. It’s a costly exercise, but once you’ve seen dawn spilling from the farthest corner of the Karoo onto a sculpture that someone’s spent the whole year on – it’s hard to go back to “real” life.
Drumkit at sunset, Bushfire Festival, Swaziland
5. Bushfire, Swaziland (30 May – 1 June)
This is the kind of festival that creates instant fans (read: 5 reasons to visit Bushfire Festival in Swaziland). First, there’s the setting: House on Fire, a venue with poetry carved into the walls, surrounded by lush canefields with mountains glowing blue in the background. Instead of the carousel of bands you’ll find at most South African festivals, changing only in fine increments from electro to indie to rock, Bushfire’s music selection is genuinely eclectic. I’ve seen Swazi dancers in full traditional get-up rocking out to Spanish hip-hop, rastas lazing on a field listening to Japanese mbira music, a man wearing a coconut-mask playing drums for a Ghanaian-Swiss jazz singer… Eclectic hardly seems to cover it.
Then there’s the fact that all profits go to an NGO that helps child-headed households, which is remarkable. But my absolute favourite thing about Bushfire is its inclusivity. Many festivals have prohibitively high entrance fees, to the exclusion of the locals. If you wanted to party in a purely tourist crowd, why not just go to Sun City? Bushfire, for all its cosmopolitanism, feels authentically Swazi.
6. KigaliUp, Rwanda (19th-20th July)
This is a relatively new festival, but the fact that it’s in Rwanda gives it a distinct advantage. The clean, friendly and utterly remarkable country nestled next to the Congo has risen into most traveller’s must-see books in the short 20 years since their horrific genocide. KigaliUp is an attempt to promote arts and culture in Rwanda, and particularly to give Rwandan artists a platform on which to show off their talents.
7. Lake of Stars, Malawi (26 – 28th September)
Malawi is a glorious country, filled with friendly faces, breath-taking scenery, and the best condiments ever (read: 10 things I love about Malawi). Lake of Stars, a festival held on the shore of Lake Malawi, hasn’t been held since 2011 (possibly due to funding problems) but they’re roaring back to life in 2014, and you’d be a fool not to show your support. Here’s an account of what went down at Lake of Stars 2011.
Poi on the shores of Lake Malawi
8. Festival Waga Hiphop, Burkina Faso (TBC – October)
This is the oldest hiphop festival in Africa, having been going since 2001. Artists from all over West Africa and the diaspora congregate in Ouagadougou for a massive celebrations of urban culture, including dance and theatre as well as music. They also host various workshops and training programmes, as one of the main festival goals is to uplift local youth.
9. Vic Falls Carnival, Zimbabwe (29 – 31 Dec)
White-water rafting, overlander adventures, bungee-jumping, a steam train party, and that’s before the festival even begins. You can read 7 of the best things about Vic Falls Carnival here, but in a nutshell: it’s the most exciting way to spend New Year’s Eve, guaranteed. This festival is destined for great things: go soon, so that you can claim to have been there before it was huge.
Steam train at Vic Falls Carnival
10. Festival au Desert, Mali (events throughout the year)
Festival au Desert is one of the most exciting festivals in the world, and grew out of an ancient Tuareg tradition where nomadic clans would meet in the cooler months to swap stories and re-connect after a long year apart. It’s ballooned into a celebration of all the rich cultures of Mali – but due to political unrest and rebels imposing strict Shar’ia law (including prohibitions on music), they’ve chosen to go into exile. This year’s festival has been delayed again, but you can keep on eye on the events they’re holding elsewhere in West Africa on their website.
Not enough? If you need more to get your fix, check out the festivals associated with the African Music Festival Network.
Source: Getaway blog