With events to rival America and Europe, Africa is now drawing music festival fiends in their thousands. Harriet Constable finds out more.

Demand worldwide for music festivals shows no signs of slowing, and Africa – home to the most diverse cultures, sounds and achingly beautiful locations on earth – is starting to host some of the most exciting festivals on offer.

Even though festival-lovers nowadays have options galore, the big international events still hog a lot of the limelight. Hip Californian festival Coachella, for instance, has been attracting an international crowd keen to flaunt their fringing to the Empire Polo Club since 1999.

Similarly, Burning Man has created one heck of a dent in the festival scene since its small beginnings on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. Last year the event attracted 69,613 ‘citizens’ to experience its ‘culture of possibility’ in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Stanley Odd / KB Mpofu / Image courtesy of Lake of Stars Arts Festival, Malawi 

Sure, these belly button brandishing, crowd surfing, hippy havens have their place. But hop over to Africa and you’ll find a burgeoning festival scene that’s still relatively raw. It’s like discovering a secret rooftop bar that only you and a couple of pals know about.

From steam train parties through Botswana, to DJ dance sessions in the middle of a national park, sunset celebrations over Malawi’s gigantic lake and sunrise sets on Zanzibar’s beach, Africa has well and truly joined the party.

These events have everything you’d expect from a big international festival: incredible settings, bags of atmosphere and internationally renowned artists. But they’re also lesser known, lesser commercialised and – this is a big ’un –incredibly cheap when compared to their western counterparts.

These are some of the highlights.

Lake of Stars

Malawi’s Lake of Stars has been hailed as one of the “world’s best music festivals” in the international press. It’s held on the eye-wateringly stunning shores of Lake Malawi and offers a combination of global artists (hip hop act and Mercury prize winners Young Fathers are playing this year), local talent, inspirational TED-style talks and colourful cultural events in the middle of one of the most beautiful countries on earth. Add to that the fact that tickets are only £45 and attendance is a bit of a no brainer.

Zone Fam / KB Mpofu / Image courtesy of Lake of Stars Arts Festival, Malawi 

Vic Falls Carnival

Festival arrivals don’t get much better than at the Vic Falls Carnival, where attendees travel on a party steam train from South Africa, which stops en route for an epic dance party in a secret location in the middle of a national park.

Ticket holders get to enjoy all the game-viewing that a few days of safari in the Serengeti would offer on the way, then, once there, they can simply stroll from their tent to one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, the mind-blowing flumes of Victoria Falls.

And this is all before the music – solely and proudly a line-up the best artists Africa has to offer – has even started. Vic Falls Carnival is in a different league.

Afrikaburn

Never fear, if you’re a die-hard ‘Burner’ there’s an event right up your street. Afrikaburn is affiliated to Burning Man and follows the same ‘Burner’ principles, but is hailed as being “Burning Man 15 years ago” – before it got too big and too popular. This is the authentic burn experience. And with ticket prices starting at just R641 (£35), it’s also far cheaper at about an eighth of the cost of Burning Man.

photo credit: Afrikaburn 2011 #119 via photopin (license)

Bushfire

If world music is your thing, head to the three-day Bushfire in Swaziland. Attendees are encouraged to ‘bring the fire’ to the scenic farmlands of the Malkerns Valley.

Sauti za Busara

Tanzania’s Sauti za Busara in the Zanzibar’s Stone Town features more than 200 artists from 32 countries. The focus here is celebrating traditional music from East Africa and beyond.

HIFA

Zimbabwe’s HIFA is the granddaddy of African music festivals and one of the biggest on the continent. It’s held in Harare every year and involves a weeklong celebration of art, music, dance and drama from across the world.

Willom Tight via Flickr (licence)

The Firefest Route

For the ultimate experience, festival-goers can join the Firefest Route – a Southern Africa festival tour which takes place throughout May. It includes HIFA, AZGO, Fireball, Africa Day, MTN Bushfire and Safiko Musik.

So get your tickets, and get ‘em now. A whole new world of festival fun awaits.

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