Many visitors return again and again to the same familiar place in Morocco, be it Marrakesh or Essaouira. And with wonderful markets, historic sights and delicious food right on the doorstep, who can blame them? For a very good reason to explore further afield, look to the varied range of music festivals and other events held throughout the country. The fast and modern train network makes getting around Morocco easier than ever before, while regular flights make it a perfect weekend break from almost anywhere in Europe. Here’s our roundup of the top Morocco festivals you shouldn’t miss this year.
An open air festival in the Sahara, the International Nomad Festival is much more than music, taking in dance, poetry, weaving, sport and other aspects of nomadic culture. To get even more from the experience sign up for a workshop and gain a deeper insight into nomadic life around the world.
The International Festival of World Music is an intimate Moroccan festival, with some 20,000 attendees. The events are held in an oasis famous for its sunsets and sand spas. Watch Moroccan and international music, then take a camel ride into the dunes, or attend an biodiversity seminar. The environment is a constant theme in this unique festival.
Held over nine days, Casablanca's Jazzablanca festival has attracted the likes of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Al Di Meola, Moorcheeba, Jason Mraz and Chick Corea, as well as emerging Moroccan and international artists. The main venue is the Casa-Anfa racecourse, with a second free stage (dedicated to the upcoming talent) at Place des Nations-Unies in the heart of the city.
Originally a celebration of World Music, the huge Mawazine Festival now attracts more mainstream international stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Lenny Kravitz and Usher. The biggest names in African and Arab music are also still featured, including Angelique Kidjo, Cheikh Lo and Youssou N’dour. With its four main stages and free entry, some 2.5 million spectators attend annually, making Mawazine one of the world’s biggest music festivals.
Gnaoua is a traditional form of Berber music that is now a vital part of modern Moroccan culture. Gnaoua World Music Festival celebrates this music, and also features reggae, jazz, blues and other world music styles. Musicians of various styles jamming together is an important part of this festival – and a nod to the spiritual origins of Gnaoua. The beautiful setting of Essaouira adds to the sometimes otherworldly vibe.
Almost 30 years old, Fès Festival of World Sacred Music has welcomed everyone from Joan Baez to the Soweto Gospel Choir. Funded to foster world peace after the Gulf War, its spiritual mission is matched by the magical venues that open their doors to musicians from around the world, many with free entry. Expect to see anything from Sufi dancers to Bolivian Amazon Baroque.
Showcasing Amazigh or Berber music, Timitar Festival also welcomes artist from across North Africa and beyond; previous years have seen acts from Cuba and Jamaica. With around 40 artists and about 500,000 spectators, it has grown in 15 years to become one of the largest African music festivals and now includes contemporary and experimental music as well as more traditional forms.
“Dance Somewhere Different” is the call that brings house and techno fans to the Red City for Marrakesh's Oasis Festival. This three-day electronic festival at the Fellah Hotel adds henna art, yoga sessions and spa treatments to the onstage line-up, while Marrakesh’s usual attractions remain just a short shuttle-ride away.
VFM was born to celebrate music of African and Middle-Eastern origin, whether the artists come from Morocco or (as in 2018) Montreal and Korea. An important part of the festival is a surrounding set of conferences and workshops to encourage the development of homegrown arts and culture in Morocco.