10 of the best music festivals in Africa

10 of the best music festivals in Africa

Festival calendar looking a little blank? Try one (or more) of these extravaganzas for a party to remember

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A truly jumpin' vibe at MTN Bushfire

Andy Hill

Andy Hill is a writer and musician who feels incredibly fortunate he’s allowed to do either of those things at all, let alone as a job.

Africa now hosts some of the most dynamic, diverse and downright delightful music festivals anywhere on the planet, and that fact is – finally and thankfully – starting to be recognised the world over. Here’s a selection of our favourite events, but remember this is far from an exhaustive list, so do also delve into some of the other countless excellent festivals taking place around the continent.

DJs spinning tunes at Nyege Nyege / Image: Noah Grothe

The party starts at Nyege Nyege / Image: Noah Grothe

Nyege Nyege, Uganda

Nyege Nyege is a Uganda-based collective dedicated to rooting out the best and most exciting contemporary East African music. In 2022 the annual festival – the collective’s marquee event – took place in a pretty pine forest near the source of the Nile. Over 200 artists from around 30 countries rocked up, with the focus very much on new-minted electronica. Nyege Nyege’s tireless championing of local acts also helps many to secure lucrative tours and sponsorship deals.

2023 dates TBC
nyegenyege.com

Five guitars are better than one: Cape Town Jazz Festival / Image: CTIJF

Cape Town International Jazz Festival, South Africa

The biggest event on the African jazz calendar is a huge deal, with over 34,000 hepcats bopping up to the last iteration. In 2023 it’s returning to Cape Town’s International Convention Centre, and will see 40 acts play over two days at three distinct stages: Rosies is the place for audiophiles thanks to its crisp, high-fidelity sound, Kippies hosts the big-name stars, and the open-air Downtown stage is all about new talent.

March 17-18, 2023
www.capetownjazzfest.com   

Amahoro drummers at Lake of Stars / Image: Lillie Eiger

Lake of Stars, Malawi

This festival was founded by a British tourist, who was so smitten with Lake Malawi he vowed to throw a party on its twinkling shoreline back in 2004 and it’s been going more-or-less annually ever since. Famously friendly punters, heavyweight international acts plus enriching local food and culture make this festival a shore thing.

May 26-27, 2023
lakeofstars.org

Sweet sax sounds at Felabration / Image: Optimus Dammy

More than just music: art on show at Felabration / Image: Optimus Dammy

Felabration, Nigeria

This yearly tribute to the late, great Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti is held at the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, Nigeria, around Kuti’s birthday in mid-October. Developed by Fela’s eldest daughter, Yeni, it’s enthusiastically supported by the Lagos authorities. The week-long party is a great place to discover new music, art, theatre and dance.

2023 dates TBC
www.felabration.net

A suitably fiery show for MTN Bushfire

MTN Bushfire, Eswatini

Eswatini’s hugely popular festival attracted nearly 30,000 revellers last year and has become a hot ticket on the African festival calendar. Offering a panoply of proper culture – live bands, DJs, poetry, food, film and dance – it’s also big on social responsibility and actively chases ambitious green targets; 65% of the 20 metric tonnes of waste generated at the 2022 festival was recycled. There’s a great kid’s zone, too, to keep the little ones as happy as the adults.

May 26-28, 2023
www.bush-fire.com

The crowds at Sauti za Busara / Image: Markus Meissl

Fadhilee Itulya at Sauti za Busara / Image: Link Reuben

Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Sauti za Busara translates as ‘sounds of wisdom’ and showcases exclusively African music in the grand setting of Zanzibar’s Old Fort, with assorted fringe events popping up elsewhere around ancient Stone Town. This year’s theme is ‘tofauti zetu, utajiri wetu’, which translates to English as ‘diversity is our strength’. Expect big crowds, parades and a warm welcome, not least from the fire eaters.

February 10-12, 2023
www.busaramusic.org

A slice of the action at Afrochella / Image: Adoosey

Afrochella, Ghana

Held around the New Year, this multifaceted two-day bonanza of culture (it’s packed with food, music, art and fashion) is every bit as lively and energetic as you’d hope for. Nigerian crossover icon Burna Boy headlines the forthcoming edition at the end of 2022, when the theme will be Afrofuturism: a celebration of the African continent and Black culture explored through the lens of sci-fi and technology.

December 28-29, 2022
afrochella.com

Asa Baako / Image: BK Oduro

Asa Baako, Ghana

The name means ‘one dance’ in the Akan language of Ghana. Very much plugged into the local scene and culture (there’s a big emphasis on working with local communities), Asa Baako primarily showcases an array of Ghanaian sounds, alongside artists from across Africa and a smattering of visitors from further afield. Get lost in colourfully named zones (Africa Rainbow, Kangaroo Pouch, Coconut Dream…), play beach volleyball and don’t miss out on the famous jungle parties.

2023 dates TBC
asabaako.com

KigaliUp / Image: Kimberly Kane

KigaliUp, Rwanda

Founded by Jacques Murigande – aka Mighty Popo, who is also head of Rwanda School of Creative Arts and Music – this shindig is a daytime celebration of music and culture. Expect plenty of reggae, blues, roots, soul and hip hop, with a strong focus on homegrown Rwandan talent, but also some global names. There’s also a significant indigenous music offering, with a programme covering Intwatwa music of the Batwa community and Bahutu soundscapes.

2023 dates TBC
www.facebook.com/kigaliup

Afropunk Johannesburg, South Africa

Afropunk was founded in Brooklyn, New York, in 2005 and has now evolved into a globe-spanning event, with other editions taking place in Miami, Minneapolis, London, Salvador in Brazil and Johannesburg. Celebrating Black culture and championing inclusivity, Afropunk also marks the time-honoured link between countercultural music and political dissent. It’s also just as much about informative lectures, sustainable shopping and seriously snappy fashion as it is killer tunes. Usually held in late December, the Johannesburg instalment is skipping 2022 but will hopefully be back with a bang in 2023.

2023 dates TBC
afropunk.com/festival/joburg