With 54 countries, Africa is known for its rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions, and its festivals are a vibrant celebration of this heritage.
From rhythmic drumming and traditional dances to contemporary music and art performances, African festivals are a dazzling display of color, music, and dance that captures the spirit and essence of the continent.
Here are the best African festivals.
1. Lake of Stars (Malawi)
Year Started: 2004
The Lake of Stars festival in Malawi is a captivating celebration of music, arts, and culture set against the stunning backdrop of Lake Malawi.
This vibrant, 3-day festival brings together a diverse array of local and international musicians, artists, poets, actors, and performers each year around September, creating a dynamic fusion of sounds and rhythms that fill the air with infectious energy.
While there are international performers and guests, the festival largely focuses on art from Malawi and the surrounding region. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, this festival is an internationally renowned one, with over 4,000 guests per year.
It’s also known for its beautiful surroundings, with stages nestled on sandy beaches with white sands and idyllic waters.
Ultimately, the Lake of Stars festival offers a unique experience where festival-goers can immerse themselves in the beauty of Malawian culture, dance the night away, and create unforgettable memories by the shimmering waters of Lake Malawi.
2. Durbar Festival (Nigeria)
Year Started: the 14th century
Durbar Festival is a colorful and grand celebration held in several cities across Nigeria, including Kano, Katsina, Bida, Bauchi, etc., at the end of Eid-al-Fitr.
It involves a procession of elaborately dressed horsemen, dancers, musicians, and other performers, showcasing the heritage and muslin-centered culture of the northern Nigerian region.
The main events are held in Kano, the largest city in Northern Nigeria, and events take place for four full days. The events include prayers, horsemen, artillery, and various musicians to help add a celebratory and festive feel.
Historians date the origin of the festivities back to the 14th century, when it was held to celebrate the coronations of Emirs or for annual religious festivals.
It has since become a significant part of Nigerian culture, with millions attending to witness the traditional performances and colorful costumes.
Durbar Festival is an excellent opportunity for tourists to experience the vibrant and meaningful traditions of the area.
3. Timkat (Ethiopia)
Year Started: Early 17th – mid-19th century
Timkat, also known as Epiphany, is a major Orthodox religious festival celebrated in Ethiopia to commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.
It’s said to have started sometime between the early 17th and mid-19th centuries, and it involves colorful processions, traditional music and dance, and the re-enactment of the baptismal ceremony.
It’s a three-day festival that spreads across the country, although most of the main events are held in Gondar, the former capital of the Ethiopian Empire.
At this religious festival, you’ll see pilgrims in white robes and colorful umbrellas singing religious songs and chanting hymns. The priests parade a replica of the Ark of Covenant through town as a symbolic representation of their faith.
At the end of the festival, there is a special celebration where priests bless attendees with holy water from the Jordan.
It’s not a crazy party festival, that’s for sure. But if you’re in Ethiopia in January, you’d be remiss not to learn more about this festival and witness some of the events if you can.
4. Cape Town International Jazz Festival (South Africa)
Year Started: 2000
The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, held annually in Cape Town, South Africa, is a world-renowned, two-day celebration of jazz music that captivates music enthusiasts from across the globe and is the fourth-largest jazz festival in the world.
The festival is a melting pot of diverse jazz styles, bringing together an impressive lineup of local and international artists who grace the stages with awe-inspiring performances.
The festival is spread over two days and creates an electric atmosphere with its soulful melodies, improvisations, and rhythms that reverberate through the air.
The stages come alive with the sounds of jazz, ranging from classic to contemporary, showcasing the talents of established and emerging artists.However, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is not just about music; it’s a cultural experience.
Festival-goers can enjoy a variety of food stalls serving delectable South African cuisine, explore arts and crafts markets, and participate in workshops and seminars highlighting the rich heritage of jazz music and its impact on African culture.
The festival draws a diverse crowd, with jazz aficionados, music lovers, and curious tourists coming together to celebrate the universal language of music in a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere.
The festival’s iconic setting, nestled against the backdrop of the majestic Table Mountain, adds to its allure, creating an unforgettable experience that leaves a lasting impression on all who attend.
5. Oasis Festival (Morocco)
Year Started: 2015
Oasis is a relatively young festival featuring international EDM and techno DJs held in the beautiful Moroccan land of Marrakech.
Oasis has established itself as a go-to destination for those looking to go hard on the dance floor while appreciating both international and North African musical influences.
In addition to the dance floor, attendees get a chance to appreciate fashion, art, and food from this diverse, culturally influential country.
The setting is incredible as well. The festival takes place in front of the Atlas Mountains, which makes for a powerful backdrop to the party, and is held specifically at the Fellah Hotel, a luxury establishment with gorgeous pools, stunning views, and a rustic-pop design.
The three days of Oasis include some of the biggest names in the industry, and although it’s not the largest dance festival, attendees tend to appreciate the more “intimate” feel and welcoming environment that it creates.
6. Mawazine (Morocco)
Year Started: 2001
Another music festival in Morocco that started well before Oasis is The Mawazine festival. It’s a spectacular celebration of music and culture that captivates visitors with its vibrant performances, diverse lineup, and unique blend of local and international music.
Held annually in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, the festival is a melting pot of genres, ranging from traditional Moroccan music to contemporary pop, rock, hip-hop, and more.
The festival takes place over several stages, with renowned artists from Morocco and around the world gracing the stages with their mesmerizing performances. Big names like David Guetta, Jennifer Lopez, and Maluma are included in that list.
“Mawazine” is Arabic for “rhythms of the world,” and the festival’s diverse lineup reflects Morocco’s rich cultural heritage and its position as a crossroads of different musical traditions. In this way, it’s a celebration of Morocco’s cultural diversity and rich, varied history.
Additionally, the atmosphere at Mawazine is electric, with big, enthusiastic crowds dancing and singing along. It also features other cultural activities, such as art exhibitions, workshops, and street performances, showcasing Morocco’s vibrant arts and culture scene.
Mawazine has undoubtedly earned its reputation as one of Africa’s largest and most prestigious music festivals, drawing music enthusiasts, tourists, and artists alike to revel in the rich cultural tapestry and the magic of music in the heart of Morocco.
7. FESPACO Film Festival (Burkina Faso)
Year Started: 1969
FESPACO, or The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, is the largest film festival in Africa and has been running for over 50 years.
Unlike many festivals held annually, FESPACO only takes place every two years, making it a highly anticipated event in Burkina Faso and across the continent.
The festival showcases African films from all over the continent, and it aims to provide filmmakers with a platform to share their stories, promote African cinema, and support emerging talent.
It’s a great opportunity for filmmakers and film lovers to come together in solidarity and celebrate African cinema. The entries are divided into different categories, including feature films, documentaries, and short films.
FESPACO runs for a full week, providing enough time to share films in cinemas throughout the city. They also crown a winner of the film festival, who receives the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.
This festival is usually held between late February and early March, which might seem daunting to people who want to avoid the hot temperatures. But most of the time, you’ll be in a cool theater anyway!
8. Diwali (Mauritius)
Year Started: Ancient Tradition
The Diwali festival is an ancient Hindu celebration that marks the victory of light over darkness and good over evil.
While Diwali, also spelled Divali, is celebrated across the Indian subcontinent, the home of Hinduism, as well as various other countries, it has a great cultural significance in Mauritius as well and is celebrated with much enthusiasm by the locals.
The main highlight of Diwali is the lighting of lamps, which is believed to bring luck and prosperity, as well as ward off evil spirits.
In Mauritius, Diwali is celebrated over several days, typically sometime in late October or early November, with a number of traditional rituals and activities.
These include special puja ceremonies, dances, and fireworks displays, as well as gift-giving between family and friends.
People also perform a prayer ritual to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and exchange sweets.
9. AfrikaBurn (South Africa)
Year Started: 2007
AfrikaBurn is an annual festival held in the Tankwa Karoo in South Africa and is one of the largest regional Burning Man events. The festival is well-known for celebrating art, self-expression, and community.
The event is a celebration of human creativity, and participants are encouraged to build and create works of art that they can share with the community, as well as dress in elaborate costumes and fully express who they are.
It’s also a platform for interactive performance art, music, and installations. The festival has something for everyone – from the wildest of partiers to the most discerning of art connoisseurs.
The event is held over seven days, and it culminates in a burning of the art installations and sculptures, as well as an elaborate closing ceremony.
AfrikaBurn is an experience unlike any other, and it’s a great opportunity for people to celebrate their uniqueness and come together as one.
Visiting South Africa in April, when this festival is typically held, is also ideal if you want to come while the weather is pleasant and the wildlife viewing is just starting to get good. You can make a full vacation out of your festival trip!
10. Sauti Za Busara (Zanzibar)
Year Started: 2003
Sauti Za Busara is a thrilling music festival held annually in February in Zanzibar. It has main events in Ngome Kongwe (more commonly referred to as Old Town) while also hosting fringe events in Stone Town.
This festival brings people together to uncover, appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy music from all over the continent, with some of the most unique and vibrant sounds you’ll ever hear.
It’s known for inspiring a carnival-like atmosphere, with hundreds of people dancing, singing, and storytelling over the four-day festival.
And having everything centered in the Old Fort itself, a colonial architectural piece with great significance that’s been standing for over 200 years, makes the experience all the more special.
The aim of Sauti Za Busara is to celebrate African music, promote intercultural dialogue, and encourage collaboration. It is an event that is truly unmissable for any music lover or world explorer.
Since this festival is held in February, festival-goers can enjoy the benefits of visiting Zanzibar at this time of year, such as the almost completely dry weather. However, it does get quite hot around this time, so if you go, be prepared to sweat!
11. Rocking the Daisies (South Africa)
Year Started: 2004
Rocking the Daisies is an energetic, annual music and lifestyle festival held in South Africa and is one of the biggest music festivals in the country. There are two events, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg, usually around the same time of year
It’s also known for its commitment to sustainability, purposeful innovation, and making sure the festival leaves a small environmental footprint. Their catchy motto is “play hard, tread lightly,” and the guests are all excited to participate in a fun yet conscious experience.
The lineup of the weekend event is always diverse, with artists from all genres and backgrounds, as well as a selection of activities ranging from yoga classes to cooking workshops to markets.
Rocking the Daisies is a great opportunity for the people of South Africa to come together and have fun while learning about sustainability, being conscious of their environment, and appreciating all types of music: folk, r&b, rock, indie, hip-hop, grime, and more.
Since the festival serves as a platform for not only having a lively time but inspiring conversations about environmental issues, it’s helpful that it’s held in such a captivating place as the Color Wine Estate, with incredible views of the surrounding wine country.
The festival is typically held in October, the perfect month to visit the country for mild, agreeable weather. You’ll get sunny days and temperate nights, ideal for dancing the night away.
12. STRAB (Subterranean Rhythm & Blues) Festival (Mozambique)
Year Started: 2003
The Subterranean Rhythm & Blues Festival, lovingly shortened to STRAB, is an exciting whirlwind of incredible musicians playing inviting music. All the while, festival-goers relax on the sand, swim in the sea, and dance under the sun.
It has an interesting origin story, as it was originally just a live birthday party show for a small group of scuba divers, then became an organically-developed music festival over time.
It still maintains a sense of intimacy and charm, perfect for people who love great music in a beautiful beach setting at Ponta Malongane Resort. So, if you like beach parties and live bands, then STRAB is the perfect festival for you.
With at least 20 different acts, both known and unknown, performing throughout the five days and four nights, it’s an unbeatable opportunity to listen to and appreciate music from all over the world.
The festival also still has a strong emphasis on scuba diving, and the website assists festival-goers who want to learn how to dive and explore the wonderful underwater world before, after, or even during the festival’s events!
You can book dives from the festival that’ll meet right at Ponta Malongane Resort, and there’s a wide range of incredible dive sites suitable for both beginner and advanced divers.
Finally, May through September are the best diving months in the country, and this festival is held in May – perfect for those wanting to kick off diving season with a bang!
13. Kilifi New Year (Kenya)
Year Started: 2014
Kilifi, set in Kilifi Town, Kenya, is a boutique music festival featuring reggae and alternative music.
It has a stunning, pristine location on the coast, dotted with lemon orchards and bamboo forests, and it combines music, art, and a beautiful environment to deliver an unforgettable experience.
The festival is a 2-day, 2-night series of events that promote freedom of expression, sustainability, art, and culture. It’s also always held over the New Year, given its name, so it also represents new beginnings and hopes for a brighter, better future.
To symbolize this, they burn a large wooden sculpture, similar to the ending of the Burning Man festival or the AfrikaBurn mentioned earlier in this article, and the smoke carries all of their hopes and dreams into the New Year.
Kilifi New Year is known for its expressive, inspiring, open-hearted, and forward-thinking performances, making it an ideal festival to attend if you hold similar values.
Celebrating the new year in Kenya is also pleasant weather-wise, which is a plus for travelers looking to visit Kenya but are afraid of aggressively hot temperatures. It’s relatively mild and pleasant in December in Kenya.
14. Curee Salee and Wodaabe Gerewol (Niger)
Year Starting: 1990s
Curee Salee and Wodaabe Gerewol is an annual festival held in Niger. It’s unique for a couple of reasons: it’s traditionally a nomadic festival, and the focus is on beauty.
The Wodaabe are a nomadic tribe, and each year, during the Curee Salee – which means “Salt Cure” in French – they gather for three days for an event that’s part preparation for trips after the rainy season (traditionally, part competition, and part social gathering.
The highlight of the festival is a beauty contest called Gerewol (“Faces in Full Moonlight”). All the young men dress up in their best clothes and makeup, then compete with each other for their beauty, grace, and talent.
The winner of the Gerewol is very influential in the tribe and remains so for an entire year until the next Curee Salee and Wodaabe Gerewol festival.
It’s an exciting and vibrant festival to learn about and attend if you’re in Niger, especially since the government has taken great strides to make it more tourist-friendly. In addition to the main beauty contest, the events include camel races, livestock parades, and large feasts.
Plus, since this festival is highlighting the end of the rainy season, it is typically held in September, which is an excellent time to visit Niger because the weather is enjoyable – dryer but not as unbearably hot as it gets in March through May.
15. Gnaoua World Music Festival (Morocco)
Another Moroccan music festival on the list is the famous Gnaoua World Music Festival, which highlights Gnawa music, which is traditional, religious rhythms and songs.
The festival features both traditional Gnawa songs as well as more contemporary Gnaoua music with influences from Pan-African and Arabic cultures, as well as music from all over the globe, hence its “World Music Festival” name.
This four-day festival holds performances throughout the town of Essaouira, the perfect coastal town for hosting a festival that promotes artistic exchange and a melting pot of global sounds.
Festival goers appreciate not only the live performances and shows but also the surrounding beaches and delicious seafood establishments you can find all across the town.
The festival is also held in June, which is an excellent time to visit Morocco because of its warm and sunny climate, making it a great opportunity to enjoy the country’s beautiful landscapes while simultaneously experiencing the diverse music from the festival.
Top African Festivals, Final Thoughts
From long-running, tradition-based cultural festivals with a unique blend of richness to pumping, energetic music festivals featuring loads of artistic creativity, African festivals offer an unforgettable experience for locals and visitors alike.
These top African festivals provide a window into the soul of Africa’s diverse cultures and traditions, as well as its ongoing cultural development and fusions.