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The top 12 music festivals in Africa that you should absolutely experience at least once in your life

07 January 2014, 13:34Sarah Duff

Cape Town - The African continent is home to some of the most diverse music on the planet, and some of the world’s best music festivals, from lakeside beach parties to surreal desert gatherings. Here are Africa’s top 12 music festivals to put on your festival bucket list.

1) Festival au Désert, Mali
It takes a bit of effort to get to the Malian desert, but if you’re up for a bit of an adventure then the Festival au Désert is definitely worth it. Held on sand dunes near Timbuktu, this three-day festival has performances from award-winning Malian musicians such as Tinariwen, as well as other African acts and some international performers. This is probably Africa’s most exotic festival: expect to share the dance floor with camels and turbaned desert nomads.

Dates: 9 to 11 January 2014
Venue: Timbuktu, Mali

2) Up the Creek, South Africa
This small, laidback festival is all about the creek – otherwise known as the Breede River. There are stages on land, with blues, indie and rock bands, but the river stage is definitely the highlight. Floating on a lilo and splashing around on a dance floor in the river to your favourite bands is the best way to spend a summer weekend.

Dates: 31 Jan to 3 Feb 2014
Venue: Swellendam, Western Cape, South Africa

3) Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar
Running for 10 years, Sauti za Busara is East Africa’s biggest music festival, with hundreds of musicians from all over the continent and performances in an open-air amphitheatre. Stone Town is awash with the sounds of the continent for four days as fringe performances – impromptu and planned – take place all over town.

Dates: 13 to 16 February 2014
Venue: Stonetown, Zanzibar

(Cape Town Jazz Festival. Nielen de Klerk/Channel24)

4) Cape Town Jazz Festival, South Africa
More than 30 000 people attend this festival, which has been voted one of the best in the world. Now in its 15th year, it showcases more than 40 local and international artists (such as Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jill Scott) who perform on five stages at the two-day event. If you can’t get a ticket to the popular event, there’s a free outdoor community concert  in Cape Town held just before the festival.

Dates: 28 and 29 March 2014
Venue: Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

5) Splashy Fen, South Africa
With an eclectic mix of music from folk to rap, fun outdoor activities, luxury camping and a beautiful setting at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains, Splashy Fen is a popular music festival for families.

Dates: 17 to 21 April 2014
Venue: Splashy Fen farm, Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

6) AfrikaBurn, South Africa
Africa’s answer to Burning Man, the famous event held in the US, is more than a music festival: it’s a surreal world of art, music and performance in the Karoo desert. Thousands of festival goers participate voluntarily to provide entertainment (anything from a circus to DJs playing out of a giant purple bus) and give gifts, from cocktails to ice creams (there’s nothing to buy at AfrikaBurn other than much-needed ice).

Dates: 28 April to 4 May 2014
Venue: Stonehenge Farm, Tankwa Karoo, Northern Cape, South Africa

7) Bushfire, Swaziland
Each year 20 000 people head to Swaziland for the three-day Bushfire festival which offers a line up of music, theatre, poetry, dance and visual arts. The festival has a feel-good aspect:  all of its profits are donated to NGOs and community development projects.

Dates: 30 May to 1 June 2014
Venue: House on Fire, Ezulweni Valley, Swaziland

8) Gnaoua World Music Festival, Morocco
Traditional Gnaoua musicians (descendants of slaves from sub-Saharan Africa) are joined by jazz, pop and rock performers at this annual festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people. Performances, many of which are free, take place at different spots around the coastal fortified town of Essouira, with its narrow alleyways and bustling bazaars.

Dates: 12 to 15 June 2014
Venue: Essouira, Morocco

9) Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco
If you love traditional music, then this is the festival for you. Beautiful palaces and gardens of the medieval city of Fes are the settings for performances from traditional musicians, bands and dancers from around the world – think Iranian chanting mystics from Iran and whirling dervishes from Turkey.

Dates: 13 to 21 June 2014
Venue: Fez, Morocco

(OppiKoppi. Jaco Marais/Channel24)

10) Oppikoppi, South Africa
Oppikoppi is South Africa’s biggest festival, with more than 100 acts and 20 000 festival goers who brave the rough ‘n ready camping conditions of what’s been dubbed “Mordor”. What started as a rock festival now offers a diverse range of music, from pop to electro, and a mix of South Africa’s top bands, up-and-coming artists and international acts such as the Deftones.

Dates: August 2014 (TBC)
Venue: Oppikoppi Farm, Northam, Limpopo, South Africa

11) Lake of Stars, Malawi
Malawi’s picturesque lake is the perfect setting for a music festival: imagine swimming in the calm water in between performances, or lying on the beach under the shade of a palm tree listening to bands. The line up is a diverse mix of music, from afro pop to indie rock, and there are local acts alongside international bands and DJs (such as the Foals and Freshlyground).

Dates: September/October 2014 (TBC)
Venue: Lake Malawi (location TBC), Malawi

(Rocking the Daisies. Sean Brand/Channel24)

12) Rocking the Daisies, South Africa
The Western Cape’s biggest music festival sees 17 000 revellers partying for four days on a beautiful wine farm at the beginning of spring each year. With eight stages featuring the best local bands and DJs alongside international acts such as Bloc Party, a comedy tent as well as great food and wine tasting, it’s easy to see why it sells out.

Dates: October 2014 (TBC)
Venue: Cloof Wine Estate, Darling, Western Cape, South Africa

Sarah Duff is a freelance travel writer and photographer and contributor to Overlanding Africa. She attends as many African music festivals as she can.


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