Swazi Observer - - BUSINESS -

HERE are 10 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 digi­ti­sa­tion 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 pri­ori­tised, de­spite the vast num­ber of fes­ti­val with di­verse gen­res avail­able all year round, all over Africa.

There­fore, in no par­tic­u­lar or­der, here are 10 African mu­sic fes­ti­vals to book­mark.

‘African sounds of wis­dom’ whis­tle through the air ev­ery Fe­bru­ary when Sau­tiZaBusara takes places in Zanz­ibar. Since 2003, the East African fes­ti­val with 100 per cent live mu­sic has pri­ori­tised 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.

Sau­tizaBusara 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 pro­gramme 400 mu­si­cal acts and host about 20 000 peo­ple.

AsaBaako en­gi­neers its pro­gram­ming 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.’

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 two 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 fea­ture 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.

The flames of the Bush Fire Fes­ti­val in Eswan­tini have spread all over the world mak­ing it one of the most idolised 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 dream­like views through a camp­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The rapidly grow­ing fes­ti­val is a per­fect ex­cuse to dive into Eswa­tini 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.

NyegeNyege 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 four-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. NyegeNyege 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 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 three 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.

Elabra­tion was born out of the ur­gent need to cel­e­brate one of the great­est African song­writ­ers of all time, Fe­laKuti.

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 Fe­laKuti'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.

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.

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 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).

RAIS­ING THE BAR: Eswa­tini is mas­ter­piece, the MTN Bush­fire fes­ti­val has been ranked as Africa’s fourth best mu­sic fes­ti­val out of 10.

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