1. Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar (12 – 15 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.
Find out more: www.busaramusic.org
2. Sakifo, Réunion (5 – 7 June)
Réunion – land of rum, adrenalin, bougainvillea and ancient pirate graves (read: Reunion Island in 11 snapshots). 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.
Find out more: www.sakifo.com/festival
3. HIFA, Zimbabwe (28 April – 3 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 Zimbabwean 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.
Find out more: www.hifa.co.zw
4. Afrikaburn (27 April – 3 May)
(The journos of Getaway have been Afrikaburn fans for a long time. You’ll find a bunch of photoblogs, preparation tips, and cool videos in our Afrikaburn archive.)
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 will 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.
Find out more: www.afrikaburn.com
5. Bushfire, Swaziland (29 – 31 May)
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.
Find out more: www.bush-fire.com
6. Lake of Stars, Malawi (25 – 27th 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, wasn’t held from 2011-2013 (possibly due to funding problems) but they roared back to life in 2014, and you’d be a fool not to show your support this year. Here’s an account of what went down at Lake of Stars 2011.
Find out more: www.lakeofstars.org
9. Vic Falls Carnival, Zimbabwe (29 – 31 December)
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.
Find out more: www.vicfallscarnival.com
10. Festival au Desert, everywhere (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.
Find out more: www.festival-au-desert.org
What do you think of the Top 10 African Music Festivals ? If you know of any better ones, let us know.