It comes as no surprise to anyone thinking of Africa that it’s a continent full of music, dance, art, and other celebrations. In fact, celebrations of various kinds seem to be at the core of African culture, and it’s a place with a variety of rich musical styles, talents, and artistic flair that cannot be beat. Some of the best festivals can be found throughout the continent of Africa, and here we break it down so you can be sure to see the best ones and get the most out of your time on the continent.
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Douz was formerly a Bedouin marriage market, but now every year attracts over fifty-thousand people to this four-day affair filled with feasting, singing, dancing, and even camel racing. There are craft fairs set up and the opportunity to mingle with local Bedouin tribes and nomads, mixed in amongst the numerous French tourists.
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Meskel is an old Christian festival that has been enjoyed in Ethiopia for over 1600 years and is a celebratory African festival to mark the discovery of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. The celebration also commemorates the supposed thought that some of the pieces of that very cross had been brought to Ethiopia, and so it is celebrated. In Maskal Square in the capital city, Addis Ababa, a procession of priests, deacons, and choristers walk around large pyres carrying crosses and wooden torches decorated with olive leaves. They all light the pyre in unison, on top of which is a cross decorated with daisies. The next morning, many people return to the pyre and use the ash to mark crosses on their foreheads. Another Christian festival to be mentioned in Ethiopia is the Timkat festival which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It’s a colourful and ancient celebration with deep roots in Ethiopian culture, which usually occurs in mid-January.
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Gnaoua Festival in Morocco is one of the hottest world music festivals to date and is based in the traditions of Gnaoua music and dance, and draws tens of thousands of people every year to hear a mix of music from Berber to Arabic and African melodies. The streets and beaches of Essouira on the western coast come alive with various dances and music from Gnaoua traditional all the way up to latin, jazz, sufi and pop fusions from international artists that come down to exchange ideas and sounds with other festival performers. Already going into its 16th year, the Gnaoua African festival is a real mix of music and spirituality.
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It would seem that Morocco is one of the best sites to check out some great festivals, and the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is one of the best. This spiritual African festival held annually in Fes allows you the opportunity to run into dervishes from Iran as well as dancers, musicians, and mystics from the world over. Alongside this festival, a festival celebrating the culture of the city of Fes is held as well, ensuring that festival-goers really get a fantastic experience. Both festivals give a lovely feel and insight into the world of Fes and the Arabic culture and religion – all in one place.
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Though Ramadan is not a specifically African festival, it warrants a mention here as being one of the largest and most widely celebrated of festivals in Africa, due to Africa’s large percentage of Muslims. Ramadan is celebrated through the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which changes from year to year, and normally is observed by fasting every day during daylight hours and then feasting at night. A focus on introspection and refocusing on God is paramount, and Ramadan ends with the Festival of Eid, during which feasts are had, family parties are common, and gifts are exchanged. There are large Islamic followings in as many as 28 African nations, so you see that Ramadan and Eid are, in fact, quite commonly celebrated in Africa.
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Christmas, Throughout Africa
Like Ramadan and Eid, Christmas is also celebrated by the over 350 million Christians that make the African continent their home. Celebrated by many on the 25th of December, feasts are common, families get together, carols are sung, many go to church services, and gifts are exchanged. Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt though celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January as they follow the Gregorian Calendar.
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This three day African festival in the tiny nation of Swaziland attracts more than twenty thousand people for this event which is a combination of the arts: music, theatre, poetry as well as visual arts such as dancing and music. The festival takes place in a beautiful valley, and all profits from the festival are given to the local NGOs and charities so simply by attending you are contributing to the growth of the nation.
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Lake of Stars, Malawi
This African festival has been named one of the world’s best by the Guardian newspaper in the UK. Malawi musicians take part in this festival, which is held on the shores of Lake Malawi, alongside international artists and musicians who usually play this venue for free purely to take part. From Afro-pop to electronic, there’s a variety of music to explore. Alongside the arts and music, you can swim in the lake, sunbathe on the beach or even get involved in one of the community projects the festival has going on.
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This film and television festival, now going for over forty years, starts and ends with a bit of glitz and glamour, but actually takes place in eleven dusty cinema halls throughout the capital city of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. With a focus solely on TV and film from across Africa, this festival focuses on bringing African TV and film to the international stage. This festival is exclusive to African filmmakers, but has a large following throughout the continent, and abroad, and attracts thousands of visitors each year. This African festival encourages not only political and social dialogue across borders but also organises non-profit screenings in rural areas, which helps it enhance Africa’s inspiring cinematic vision.
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The Abu Simbel Festival is a bi-annual event which occurs on the 22nd of February and October, two days that are believed to be the dates that Ramses II ascended the throne and his birthday respectively. During these two dates as well, a solar phenomenon occurs where three of the four statues in the back of the Great Temple are illuminated by the sunlight; Ra, Ptah, Amun, and Hathor, with only Ptah being the one that stays dark. Local people and tourists alike gather for this African festival, and the local Aswan people perform music and dance.
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The Gerewol Festival, Chad
Considered by many to be the best African festival, the Gerewol Festival in Chad takes place towards the end of September and is known for featuring the fantastically decorated men of the Mbororo Tribe. These men dress up in order to help them attract potential mates, and the festival itself is known for dancing, racing feasting. If you’re searching for an authentic festival, the way they used to do it in ancient times, this is the festival for you.
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