Festivals and folklore express the shared culture of a community, encompassing its historic and socio-cultural traditions and the ways these are expressed publicly. Local festivals such as carnivals and fairs are sometimes annual celebrations that are often times influenced by culture, and religion, along with countless others showcasing Africa’s varied creative talent, through the mediums of art, music, and films. These top 10 festivals are worth planning your trip around especially if you are looking to visit one or a few of these countries.
01- Ghana (Various of Festivals)
The second half of the year is a festival season throughout West Africa in general and Ghana has a few exciting ones. In fact, Ghana is a festival country due to the variety of festivals the country has throughout the year. Here we highlight a few that occur in summer.
Agbamevoza (kente festival) of the Agotime people.
The chiefs and people of Agotome traditional area, a few kilometers east of Ho, who are indeed Ga-Adanbges, celebrate their annual Kente festivals in August every year. This is a unique festival by all standards. The Ago time people claim they introduced the art of Kente weaving to present-day Ghana and consequently have been marking this event with a colorful festival. The festival culminates in a durbar of chiefs and subjects and various types of Kente cloth are put on display.
A unique aspect of the festival is the Kente-weaving competition and one that brings about the best. On the evening of Saturday, Miss “Agbamevor” (Miss Kente) is selected. This unique festival attracts thousands of people from far and near and many are tourists.
Oguaa Fetu Afahye Festival:
Cape Coast city is ripe during the Oguaa Fetu Afahye. Fetu Afahye is an annual festival celebrated by the people and chiefs of Cape Coast Traditional Area in the Central Region of Ghana. It is one of the most popular festivals in Ghana with the highest attendance. The festival is celebrated on the first Saturday in the month of September every year. It is homecoming time during this month. May, June, and July are the rainfall months in Cape Coast whilst August, November and February are mainly dry seasons.
Once upon a time, there had been a plague in Cape Coast as history has it. This was devastating and as such demanded that the people of Cape Coast call for intervention from their gods. However, it is believed that the inhabitants of Cape Coast and its environs were able to eliminate this plague with the help of their gods, hence, the name “Fetu” – originally Efin Tu (“doing away with dirt”). It is also observed to commemorate a bumper harvest from the sea as well as perform rituals to thank the 77 gods of Oguaa Traditional Area.
The Fetu Afahye was once banned by the then colonial administration of the country, and specifically Cape Coast, and was termed “Black Christmas” to depict it as a bad traditional phenomenon. The Omanhen (paramount chief) at that time, who is named the Osabarimba Kodwo Mbra V, Okyeame Ekow Atta, debunked this conception as misleading. Between 1948 and 1996, the festival finally resumed, after the religious struggle from various important personalities in the Oguaa Traditional Area. The festival is now used as a calendar for the farming seasons of the Oguaa Traditional Area and this particular phenomenon is also referred to as “Afehyia”, meaning “a loop of seasons.”
Cape Coast, by the way, is the capital city of the Central Region. The city of Cape Coast was once the Capital city of Ghana( Gold Coast) until it was changed to Accra in 1877. Cape Coast thus has many Western-style buildings and is the famous Ghanaian city of Education. Many of the prominent Statesmen and women and Academicians hail from Cape Coast.
Where: Cape Coast, Ghana
Afrochella is a festival designed to highlight & elevate thrilling and thriving millennial talent from and within Africa. The festival features a festive celebration of Ghanaian culture in the form of Art & Fashion Installations, Live painting, The Best of African Cuisine, and Live performances. The festival lasts for about 10 days and begins towards the end of December ending around New Year.
There is also an Afrochella Music Museum which features historical anecdotes, documentaries, music stories & videos of Africa’s Music Pioneers. Each Museum Experience is designed to help visitors explore Africa’s Music History Pre-Independence through the present by carefully highlighting the influences that changed the sounds of African Music throughout history.
Where: Accra, Ghana
02- Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco
A collection of the most mystical music and dance on the planet, from Bjork to whirling derwishes. The Festival of World Sacred Music (Festival de Fès des Musiques Sacrées du Monde in French) is a 10-day event held in mid-summer in the magnificent city of Fes (Fez). Founded in 1994 by the Moroccan philanthropist Faouzi Skali, it was meant to showcase the diversity of spiritual music around the world. It is a spiritual festival that has been held annually for more than a quarter of a century in Fez, Morocco, hosting musicians and dancers from all over the world. The festival features an array of open-air concerts and a mix of genres from whirling dervishes to mystic Sufi chanters.
In 2001, the festival in Fes was marked by the United Nations as an event contributing to the dialogue between civilizations. The current patron of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is King Mohammed VI. The event is dedicated to knowledge, art, and spirituality. Over the course of the nine-day extravaganza, you might see Iranian whirling dervishes or Sufi chanters, dancers from America, or groups singing sacred Gaelic hymns. Performances take place outside, in the city’s Jnan Sbil Gardens, or in the historic plaza in front of the Royal Palace. In addition to the scheduled performances, expect an abundance of delicious Moroccan street food. The festival will run this year from 9-12 June, shorter this year due to circumstances over the last two years, The theme this year is Architecture and the Sacred.
Where: Fez, Morocco
The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is an annual music festival held in Cape Town, South Africa. The first one was held from 2000 to 2005 and is recognized as the fourth largest jazz festival in the world and the largest jazz festival in Africa. Jazz legends from all over the world perform for two days at the city’s International Convention Centre, either on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April. Now in its 21st year, the festival routinely attracts crowds of more than 37,000 people and tickets must be booked well in advance. Past performers range from global acts like Miles Mosley, Corinne Bailey Rae, and the Gipsy Kings; to South African favorites like the Ndlovu Youth Choir.
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: March or April
04- Zanzibar International Film Festival, Tanzania
The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), also known as Festival of the Dhow Countries, is an annual film festival held in Zanzibar, Tanzania. It has been described as the largest cultural event in East Africa. ZIFF is a non-governmental organization established in 1997 to develop and promote the film and other cultural industries as catalysts for regional social and economic growth.
It is an all-arts affair, with 8 days of local and international discussion panels, workshops, 10 days of screenings of the best local and international cinema, and evenings of musical concerts including a Gala night each evening. All festival programs are a culmination of the realization of the capacity of film to fuse together the best of each art form, offering a wide range of Entertainment, Educating, and Networking options for world audiences. Dhow races also take place throughout the festival, while workshops empower and inspire the next generation of actors, directors, screenwriters, and producers.
Where: Zanzibar, Tanzania
05- Curee Salee and Wodaabe Gerewol, Niger
The Cure Salée (French: “Salt Cure”), or “Festival of the Nomads”, is a yearly gathering of the Tuaregand Wodaabe peoples in the northern Niger town of Ingall. The ceremony marks the end of the rainy season and usually occurs in the last two weeks of September. The government of Niger began sponsoring the festival in the 1990s, fixing its date for each year (in 2006: September 11). The festival lasts for three days, and brings together dignitaries, performers, and attracts tourists from all over the world. The most famous aspect of the festival is the Gerewol, a male beauty pageant that sees the tribe’s young men dress in elaborate costumes and make-up to perform traditional dances. They are competing for the approval of female judges, and many matches are made during this age-old courtship ritual. The festival also includes camel races, livestock parades, and feasting.
Where: Ingall, Niger
06- Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi
Lake of Stars Festival is an annual three-day international festival held on the shores of Lake Malawi, the third-largest lake in Africa. The first festival took place in 2004 and attracts over 4,000 attendees with musical acts drawn mainly from Africa and Europe. The festival usually has three themes, music, culture, and wellness. The Music features the opportunity to discover the joyful sounds of Malawi alongside some of the brightest names from across the continent and beyond at Lake of Stars. The culture theme features the vibrant cultures of Africa ranging from traditional dance to poetry, theatre to fashion. And the wellness theme allows for a more relaxing time, and inner peace, whether immersing yourself in yoga or simply relaxing by the crystal clear shores of one of the world’s Great Lakes.
As the leading international festival in Malawi, Lake of Stars also provides local artists with a unique platform to showcase their art to a global audience, as well as attract high-profile names to perform from across the world. Alongside the flagship festival, the Lake of Stars Project has also produced a number of other cultural events including the Children’s Future Festival, Lilongwe Shorts film festival, Euro Film Festival, Island in the Sky festival in Malawi, and UK editions of Lake of Stars in London and Glasgow in the UK.
Where: Lake Malawi
07- Gnaoua World Music Festival, Morocco
Founded more than 20 years ago to celebrate traditional Gnaoua music, which borrows inspiration from the religious songs and acrobatic dance rhythms of Berber, African, and Arabic culture; is held every year in the coastal town of Essaouira. The festival provides a platform for a meeting point of music and dialogue between foreign artists and the mystical Gnaoua (also Gnawa) musicians. In this melting-pot of musical fusion, the Gnaoua masters invite players of jazz, pop, rock, and contemporary World music to explore new avenues. The festivals see up to 500,000 visitors every year over four days; many of the performances can be viewed for free, which complicates the comparison with other festivals. The festival lasts for four days, with performances taking place at venues dotted all over the town. In between shows, take the opportunity to discover Essaouira’s beautiful beaches and renowned seafood restaurants.
Where: Essaouira, Morocco
08- Various Festivals in Senegal
The annual 10-day drumming festival in the Casamance community of Abéné begins at the end of December and extends into the New Year. The djembe and percussion players may be the festival’s main event, but visitors can also enjoy nightly dancing and traditional Senegalese wrestling matches. This celebration of Casamance culture attracts performers and visitors from across West Africa and even as far as Europe.
St Louis Jazz Festival
Each May, St Louis hosts one of Africa’s largest jazz festivals, where legends such as Joe Zainul and Herbie Hancock perform alongside no fewer than 30 new artists every year. The event has expanded to include soul, blues, and even rap performances held in venues across St Louis. However, Senegal River cruises may be the most romantic way to enjoy these unforgettable musical performances.
This Dakar festival held between late May and early June is a celebration of traditional and contemporary dance from across Africa and the rest of the world. However, the focus is on African choreographic expression, entertainment, and education.
Gorée Diaspora Festival
This art festival was established to promote links between Senegal and the descendants of the slaves forced to leave Africa from Gorée Island. Conferences and meetings filled with debates and discussions are held alongside lively dancing and musical performances. Many performers and visitors of African descent have rediscovered their roots at this emotional festival held between November and December each year.
09- Timkat, Ethiopia
One of the most important festivals on the Ethiopian calendar, Timkat (Timket) is celebrated across the country. Timkat is an Orthodox Christian occasion to mark the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. The three-day festival is held in towns and cities across the country, but the most famous occurs in Gondar. Here, thousands of pilgrims dressed in white robes accompany a replica of the Ark of the Covenant from each of the city’s churches to the royal bathing pool known as Fasiladas’ Bath. After a candlelit vigil, the waters of the pool are blessed and celebrants take to the water to renew their baptism vows. The rest of the festival is dedicated to feasting and dancing.
The most important day is the 19th of January and this is when the blessing of water and reaffirming of baptism vows to take place. Christianity is the biggest religion in Ethiopia and 43% of the population is Orthodox Christian which means that many Ethiopians mark the occasion of Timkat.
Tourists in Ethiopia during Timkat are treated to 3 days of festivities. People travel to Ethiopia to take part in Timkat which involves processions, singing, and dancing. Spending time in Ethiopia is an excellent way for tourists to get an insight into the religion, culture, and traditions of the African nation.
Where: Gondar, Ethiopia
When: January 18-20
10- Abu Simbel Festival, Egypt
Fans of Ancient Egypt will adore this festival, which takes place twice a year on October and February 22nd. The magic of this festival is all in the timing – at these two times of the year, the sun aligns with the entrance of the Abu Simbel temples honoring Ramses II and his wife, Queen Nefertari, to illuminate two of the three statues within – leaving Ptah, the god of the underworld, in darkness.
The Temples of Abu Simbel are a huge attraction in Egypt, bringing many tourists into the country each year. Built by King Ramses II, the temples of Abu Simbel are touted to be the most impressive ones in the country. The Sun temple, located on the banks of River Nile, was built in 1250 B.C. and is carved into the sandstone cliffs. The 65-foot seated Ramses statue is the temple’s main attraction. There are two other temples in the complex as well, one for Ramses and the second for his queen Nefertiti.
The extraordinary beauty and grandeur of the Sun temples are simply spellbinding. The temple remained hidden from the world until 1812 when the Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt found it. In 1964, the temple was conserved to protect it from the rising waters of the Aswan High Dam. The entire site was dismantled and reassembled at a place 65m higher and 200m behind the river.
When: February and October
11- The Gerewol Festival, Chad
If you’re up for having your beliefs about marriage and gender roles challenged quite a bit, then this has to be one of the most interesting cultural experiences a traveler can experience. Each year the nomadic Wodaabe tribes gather at the end of the rainy season, usually during the last week of September, for what has been described as the world’s most competitive male beauty pageant.
During this week-long festival, tribes gather on foot, via camel or donkey to come together to dance, feast, and most importantly – attract a lover or mate. The men, who carry a small pocket mirror with them at all times, spend hours preparing their clothing and makeup for the Yakke dancing – in which three female judges each pick a winner who will carry acclaim and fame for years.
The Wodaabe are polygamous, and it is the women who take the lead in partnerships. During the dance, a woman who wishes to be ‘stolen’ from her current husband by a more attractive mate taps him on the shoulder to indicate her choice. Being witness to the Gerewol festival is a rare opportunity for travelers to broaden their cultural horizons, and definitely worth planning a trip around
When: late September