January events in Africa are quite lengthy in duration and also quite fun. Two that are worth mentioning are the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concert, which occurs each year from the 3rd to 31st of January at the Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa where many people pack a picnic lunch and head down to enjoy some really good music from home grown bands such as The Soil, Prime Circle and Parlotones.
From the 9th of January to the 12th of February you can catch a great art festival known in the area as the Addis Calling Exhibition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hosted by the Addis Fine Art Gallery, which celebrates the wide range of artistic ability throughout the area by presenting the mixed media works of seven contemporary artists who live and work in Addis Ababa and showcases everything from photography to paintings and all things in between.
If you’re more business inclined, January also plays host to two well known business festivals that can help promote business in both Africa and beyond. The 27th-29th of January sees the Powering Africa Summit in Washington DC, which is primarily about the power infrastructure across the continent, which helps promote investing and engages potential decision makers in the topic. The 28th-29th of January sees another festival in Addis Ababa – the Presidential CEO Investment Summit, which is a gathering of CEOs, investors and African Heads of State alongside the African Union Commission and NEPAD to get together to discuss investment opportunities throughout the continent.
February is chock full of festivals throughout Africa. Here are a few of the top ones to watch out for: Equatorial Guinea is host to the African Cup of Nations usually in late January into early February (dates vary), and 16 nations battle it out for the coveted soccer trophy, bringing many nations to a standstill during games to make sure they can catch them.
The Festival on the Niger is a four day festival in Segou, Mali, which showcases culture, music and traditions from the area over a few days in early February, usually around the 4-8. Well known West African artists are often invited to showcase their work as well – a real treat not to miss.
Stonetown and Kendwa on Tanzania’s island of Zanzibar is home to a fantastic Swahili Music Festival (Sauti za Busara), which is held each year around the 12th of February. Chock full of exciting music, theatre and dancing, this festival is a must see, bringing the region together in one fantastic show.
Cape Town, South Africa, hosts the fantastic Cape Town Pride festival between the 20th of February and early March each year, which is one of the biggest gay pride events in the area, featuring art, dancing, parades and fashion shows.
The FESPACO Film Festival out of Ougadougou, Burkina Faso is one of Africa’s crowning achievements – Africa’s answer to Cannes. Held every two years at the end of February into early March, this festival focuses on awe-inspiring films from around the continent, featuring African artists and film makers and is often regarded as one of the best film festivals in the world.
Marrakech, Morocco hosts the Marrakech Bienniale at the end of February into March, a five day festival of talks, debates, film screenings and various performances. A week long art installation known as Medin-O-RAMA and showcases nine different African video artists, alongside a 3 month long visual arts exhibit anchored at the El Badi Palace, and at other locations throughout the city.
Two events run over into March from February – the FESPACO Film Festival in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso and the Cape Town Pride Parade, both of which are longer events that begin at the end of February each year. For more information on these, refer to the February section of this article.
The colourful Hindu festival of Holi can be experienced on the island nation of Mauritius around the 15th of March each year, where everyone gets involved in a huge colourful celebration which includes pelting passers by with dyes and paints as a way to welcome in the spring season.
Addo Elephant Marathon takes place each March on the Addo Elephant Reserve near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on or around the 1st of March which includes running either 50 or 100 miles through the African bush alongside (or away from) elephants – and even lions! Extreme fitness is required to participate as the bush can be a volatile, difficult place to run with many variations in soil and brush coverage.
The Tan Tan Mousseum, which takes place in late March in Tan Tan, Morocco each year is a culmination of more than thirty nomadic tribes from around southern Morocco and other parts of north west Africa to take part in a week-long festival and celebration of cultures and traditions. Tourists are welcome to join in the fun and experience traditional dancing, art, and sleep in a Berber tent.
Cape Town plays host to the the biggest jazz festival in the area around the 28th of March each year, welcoming jazz musicians from around the world to perform for two days at the convention centre. A huge draw, attracting over 30,000 people each year, tickets are a must to the Cape Town Jazz Festival.
A final mention for March is the Cape Town Art Fair, hosted from the very end of February into the first few days of March, this three day fair showcases some of South Africa’s most exciting and prominent artists at various locations around the city.
The Splashy Fen Music Festival is held each year in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, hosting musicians from all over the country for a weekend of music and dancing. This outdoor festival is held between the 2-6 of April annually.
Morocco plays host to the world famous Marathon Des Sables each 3rd -13th April for around ten days in the Sahara Desert. This 151 mile endurance race is run over 6 days and can be considered one of the most gruelling, as competitors carry all their own gear and cook their own meals. Attracting competitors from a number of countries, this race is usually run for charities.
Sham el Nessim is a lovely holiday celebrated in Egypt the Monday after Coptic Easter annually and is a holiday and festival dedicated to celebrating spring. Picnics are consumed with families in parks and people get outside and enjoy the weather. Foods include salted fish, coloured boiled eggs and green onions. It’s believed to have been celebrated for over 4000 years.
The Sufi Cultural Festival is held annually in mid-April (around the 18th) to celebrate Sufi culture and spirituality. This festival held in Fes, Morocco, attracts people from all over the world to celebrate and enjoy Sufi hospitality, culture, dancing and food. It also attracts religious leaders and Sufi artists. Poetry and films are shared as well as ritual performances.
Fasika is the Ethiopian Easter Festival, which comes at the end of Lent which for Coptic Christians lasts for 55 days, instead of 40. The festival commemorates the days that Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, with plenty of feasting and music to go around. Dates vary each year, and is celebrated throughout Ethiopia.
Knysna, South Africa is home to the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras at the end of April into May each year, which is one of South Africa’s premier gay events. Held in the Garden Route for four days annually, it is a combination of music, art, cabaret shows, amazing food and a great parade.
And finally, Harare, Zimbabwe hosts the Harare International Festival of the Arts each year from late April into May, which attracts performers from around the world, as well as offering up plays, spoken word performances and more.
Two of the fantastic festivals that occur in May actually begin in April – these being the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras, and the Harare International Festival of the Arts. For more information on these festivals, check out our April section of this article.
Each year the Saint Louis Jazz Festival is held in Saint Louis, Senegal, featuring jazz legends from around the world, playing at various venues throughout the city. Held from the 20-25 of May, this festival is also a great platform for new musicians to get some exposure.
The Aboakyer Festival occurs each year around May 2nd in the central region of Ghana, used to involve hunting leopards, but due to the issues relating to reducing leopard numbers, participants now hunt antelope. The festival also showcases dancing, colourful processions, bands and more.
Annually, The Good Food and Wine Show comes to Cape Town, South Africa between the 21-24 of May and features celebrity chefs cooking up a storm at Cape Town’s convention centre, giving attendees the opportunity to taste, watch and learn from gourmet professionals.
The Rose Festival in Kelaa-des-Mgouna, Morocco showcases the popular rose flower as the entire town is rose scented thanks to the largest rose water distillery plant. Songs and dancing are enjoyed as people celebrate the flower that plays a large part of their culture. Mid May each year.
Between 23rd May and 1st June annually is the Royal Show – an agricultural festival and celebration held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, featuring 1400 samples of Southern Africa’s best livestock, traditional dancing, music concerts and even a motorbike extravaganza.
Two festivals run into June that we spoke about in May – The Saint Louis Jazz Festival out of Saint Louis, Senegal, and the Royal Show from South Africa. For more information on these fantastic festivals, check out the May section of this article.
A great festival out of Fes, Morocco which is usually held in June but dates can vary is the Festival of World Sacred Music, a fantastic combination of spirituality and music, celebrated alongside each other with singers, dancers and musicians from around the world and is held alongside the Fes Local Culture Festival, allowing you to really get into the spirit of the area and enjoy some spiritual Sufi chanting, and cultural delights from all around the region.
If you’re looking to visit two interesting festivals in Morocco in June, head down to the coastal village of Essouira to take in the Gnawa World Festival of Music – venues dotted around this picturesque harbour village host music of numerous varieties from around the world. There is also dancing and lots of great food. Gnawa is a combination of Berber, African and Arabic music, religion and dance.
Marrakech also plays host to a fantastic festival in June – the Marrakech Popular Arts Festival, which hosts fire swallowers, fortune tellers, folk singers and dancers, snake charmers, artists and entertainers from Europe and Asia and also showcases horsemen and women parading on horseback in traditional clothing in an event known as the Fantasia.
Grahamstown, South Africa annually hosts the National Arts Festival at the end of June into July, where 600 performances ranging from techno dj-ing to ballet dancing are showcased. This festival is classed as a fringe, featuring many various activities based in performing arts and attracts performers from all over South Africa.
The final festival to mention in June is the Great Sardine Run, which occurs each year between mid-June to early-August and features millions of sardines spawning in the waters on South Africa’s southern tip and migrating north along the eastern coast, encompassing the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Balls of sardines band together to protect from predators which follow this migration. Visible from on top of the water, boat tours are available, but if you’re able to dive, divers get the best views.
Tunisia is home to the historical site of Carthage, and each yearin July the International Festival of Carthage is held in Tunis to celebrate local, traditional music and dance as well as international and mainstream styles. Tunisian music is mixed with jazz, and many performances are done in the ancient amphitheatre of Carthage itself. This is one of Africa’s oldest and most well established festivals.
PANAFEST (Pan African Historical Theatre Festival) usually held around July 22nd in Ghana is a huge draw for thousands of people. The festival occurs every second year and showcases not just Ghanian culture, but also pan-Africanism and is aimed at people from all over the continent. Live performances, artists, dancing and drama are among the sights, and there are also talks and discussions surrounding Pan-African issues.
From the 23-28 of July annually, Cape Town has it’s Fashion Week, which brings together models from around the world to show off the latest designer trends. Open to the public, this fashion week includes seminars and runway shows.
If you’re into International Film Festivals, the one hosted on Zanzibar, Tanzania each year between the end of June and beginning of July is one of the best. Arts, music, film, literature and more from all around Africa are on display, and dhow boat races take place as well.
The Durban International Film Festival is held annually in mid to late July in Durban, South Africa and is going into its thirtieth year. It celebrates African cinema including shorts and documentaries from all over the continent. It is starting to showcase films from around the world as well, and screens over 300 films in over 22 venues around Durban.
Ramadan is celebrated throughout Africa’s nations where Islam is a widely practised religion and includes fasting for 30 days, between sunrise and sunset. Dates vary for Ramadan from year to year, so check in advance. Travellers and visitors to the region who fast with their Muslim friends are highly appreciated, but tensions can rise during this period of time so being culturally sensitive can go a long way. The festival ends with the week long celebration of Eid, during which gifts are exchanged and huge feasts occur.
If you’re looking for a taste of African heritage and music but can’t quite get to the continent, you can check out the August in Africa festival held in the Covent Garden Piazza, London each August, around the 1st. It showcases some great dancing, singing, music, art and of course, great African cuisine.
From August 6-8th the Hermanus Wine and Food Festival is held in South Africa and showcases a number of delicious wines and cheeses from around the country and its olive producers as well. It goes hand in hand with the whale watching that happens this time of year as well, making it a perfect festival.
August 12th is World Elephant Day, celebrated to bring attention to the urgent plight of the Asian and African Elephants, and is celebrated across the world.
Annually in August is the Imilchil Marriage Feast, takes place in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, a festival where up to 40 couples wed in a mass traditional ceremony and follow it up with feasting, and partying. It is open to visitors, and is a great way to experience traditional Berber culture, food, music and dance.
September is a great month to catch a number of African festivals such as Enkutatash, Ethiopian New Year on September 11th , which is celebrated annually.
Niger is home to the exciting and colourful Wodaabe Gerewol festival each September, which was originally part of Cure Salee, an annual coming together of Fulani and Touareg tribes on the edge of the Sahara. Due to the increasing commercialisation and increased number of tourists that began creeping in, they now host this separate festival where men dress as women, women dress up and camels are raced. Music and dancing are prominent in this fantastic, cultural festival.
Fetu Afahye is held in Central Ghana each year, which is celebrated by the people living in the Cape Coast region. Food such as mashed yams are given as offerings to the Gods, alongside drumming, dancing and gun firing. Priests parade in their best clothes alongside the village chiefs. This festival usually takes place on the first Saturday in September annually.
Togo hosts the Epe Ekpe festival which is the traditional New Year Festival celebrated by the Guen Tribe, held 30 miles outside the capital of Lome, near Glidji. Celebrated every September, this festival is basically a voodoo festival, involving the voodoo priests finding a sacred stone, and the colour of this stone denotes the coming year. If it looks like the year may be bad, there will be many rituals and ceremonies to try and make the spirits happy to turn the luck around.
Johannesburg Art Fair (Joburg Art Fair) is celebrated at the end of August into September annually and has become the absolute best place to purchase or sell art from around the region. The contemporary flair of the art comes from around the continent and also the Global South. A relatively new festival being only in its fourth year, it is fast becoming the place to be for artists and art enthusiasts.
Hermanus, South Africa is home to the annual Whale Festival in late September into October each year, celebrating the sighting of Southern Right Wales by enjoying good food, wine, crafts and family friendly fun.
Ethiopia hosts the famous Meskel festival on the 27th of September each year, which commemorates the discovery of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The festival includes processions of elaborately dressed priests, brass bands, flaming torches and lots of beer.
The Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi (held at Sunbbird Nkopola Lodge) occurs bi-annually at the very end of September, sometimes into October. It includes musicians and artists from all around Africa and abroad, featuring genres such as afro-pop, reggae, folk and DJs. The festival helps promote and raise money for local charities and also helps promote tourism to Malawi.
Egypt hosts the Abu Simbel Festival each October on the 21st and 22nd, during which the temples of Ramses II are illuminated by the sun in an architectural spectacle celebrated with dancing, food, music and general good times. A definite must see.
The Erfoud Date Festival near Erfoud, Morocco is a celebration of the bounty of dates harvested each October in the massive date plantations of the area. This 3 day festival is dedicated to the date and celebrated by local tribes, and Berber tents host traditional music, dancing and food. There’s also a race of the dromedary, which is a must see.
Eid ul-Adha is an important Islamic festival celebrated 70 days after the end of Ramadan in Muslim communities across the continent, but mostly in northern African countries to commemorate the trials of Ibrahim (Abraham) and how Allah asked him to sacrifice his only son. Slaughtering of goats or sheep is common during this festival, during which the meat is mostly given away.
Each November, around the 7th or so, Ghana hosts the Hogbetsotso Festival in the Volta Region by the Anlo Ewes tribe. This commemorates the escape of the tribe from a tyrannical ruler from Togo. This festival shows off the fine costumes of the local chiefs and is headed up by drumming and dancing.
The Maker Faire Africa festival is a unique combination of inventors and innovators and changes location annually, and is celebrated in late November into December. From foodstuffs to machines, there is something here for everyone, often focusing on solving the unique and widespread issues across the continent by using innovative, new technologies that are home grown.
The Ficksburg Cherry Festival hosted in South Africa each November is a huge event, attended by more than 20,000 people annually and is a celebration of all things Cherry. Cherry pies, moonshine, and other cherry based foods are available, alongside beer tents, equestrian events, and family friendly events.
Diwali, the festival of lights is celebrated every November in the Hindu nation of Mauritius by lighting candles and setting off fireworks. Sweets are prominently shared around and everyone gets involved.
The Mombasa Carnival is hosted in Mombasa, Kenya every November, home to artists and musicians from all around Kenya, alongside tribal representatives all showing off their individual cultures and costumes in a parade that winds its way through the city’s main streets.
Cairo is home to the Cairo International Film Festival every year for around 10 days. This is the Middle East’s most established and important film festival, hosting influential films from the region and abroad. International entries are also shown throughout the city.
From the 1-6 of December each year in Nairobi, Kenya, the Kiwani LitFest is hosted, featuring talks on literature and language and how this influences and relates to African experiences throughout the continent.
Panafest, in Ghana dominates the scene from December 5-8, showcasing each year fantastic music, dancing, art and culture as well as achievements from across the continent. Each year brings a different theme which helps promote the resilience and diversity of the African peoples and their struggles.
The 12th of December features BET Experience Africa in Johannesburg. Described as the ultimate lifestyle festival helps kick off the summer in style, featuring prominent musicians and comedians and is a light hearted festival celebrating African performing arts.
From 19th – 20th of December, Accra, Ghana is home to the Sebolai Radio Music Festival, which showcases indie music from around the region. This festival regularly features more than 30 artists who play everything from AfroBeat to traditional fusion and house music amongst others.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe hosts the Vic Falls Carnival from the 29-31st of December, a perfect way to bring in the New Year. Described as a once in a lifetime New Years party, this carnival, this celebration includes things like secret bush parties, train parties, and features musicians from around the continent. Tickets are required, so make sure to purchase in advance.
The 1st -2nd of December is home to the Global African Investment Summit in Westminster, London. Partnered with various African Heads of State, this summit attracts investors from around the world to hear speeches and talks on the investment opportunities throughout Africa.
The 2nd of December is the FT Growth Markets Summit in New York City, which brings together top investors, business leaders, economists and advisors to discuss the expansion, regions, and countries that are most likely to experience growth and prosperity in the medium and long term time frames, and will focus on identifying the best, most sustainable ways to encourage and sustain growth in these areas.
The 15th -18th of December in Nairobi is the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference, which will see talks and discussions on the potential membership for Liberia and Afghanistan this year – two of the world’s least developing countries, but other discussions will be carried out amongst the ministers and decision makers.