10 African cultural events watch out for in 2013


A samba queen from the 2013 carnival.
A samba queen from the 2013 carnival.

Its 2013 and its time for folks to do those things they said they must do in the year and some said that they would be attending more cultural activities on the African continent. If you are a traveller, especially if you are a Nairobi person, here are some recommendations. Some of these are given due to my having attended them and others are by word of mouth. Lets start with number 10…


10. Lake of Stars Festival (Lake Malawi, Malawi)

The Lake of Stars takes place on the palm fringed shores of the continent’s third largest lake (Lake Malawi in case you are wondering) and promotes the arts with musicians from Malawi and further afield in a big way. Many of us in Kenya first heard of this 2004 born festival when singer Dan Aceda was invited as one of the acts. Its not the biggest festival but it brands itself as the friendliest. The dates for the festival are still not published but you may check the official website for more information.


9. Storymoja Hay Festival, Nairobi, Kenya, September
The Kenyan literary scene is here. After years of non-starts and all that goes with it we now have a scene to discussion and several books (not all good) are coming out of the system. If you want to see the literature scene in the region there is no better place than the Storymoja Hay Festival. The festival, which is a cousin of the original Hay Festival in the UK, usually gives vibrant debates with literary leaning and is THE must attend literary event for the region. More information is to be had at the official website of the festival.

8. Festival Sur De Niger, Segou, Mali

I have only put this in there because I recently covered a really good Mali (county not soapie on NTV) artist called Bourelma “Vieux” Farka Toure who wowed Nairobi folks at the Alliance Francaise on Wednesday. If this is Mali then perhaps we want to look at the whole scene from there and my Internet search gave me the Festival Sur De Niger (Festival on the Niger). It describes itself as a cultural celebration featuring traditional music and contemporary musicians, arts and crafts expositions (textiles, pottery, sculpture, jewelry), traditional dance troupes and puppet troupes, pirogue races on the river, and more. For more information please visit the official website.

7.Time of the Writer International Writers Festival, Durban, South Africa 18-23 March
This is the only event on this list that you need an express invitation from the organisers to attend. The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts invites a select group of leading writers from South Africa, Africa and abroad for a thought-provoking week of literary dialogue and exchange of ideas at the Time of the Writer International Writers Festival. The festival is becoming the place where the leading authors of today meet and these will be the folks whose books the KIE will be shortlisting for discussion in schools in the next few years. For more information please check out the official website.

6. Lagos Carnival, Lagos, Nigeria, April
Its not just the Seychelles and the rest who know something about organising a Carnival. The Nigerians have the Lagos Carnival which highlights costumed dancers and decorated floats parading down the main streets on Lagos Island, Ikoyi and Victoria Island. The Lagos Carnival culminates in a grand display at Tafawa Balewa Square and includes a beauty pageant and junior carnival.


5. Sauti Za Busara, Zanzibar, Tanzania 14-17 February
Last year saw a huge splash in the Zanzibar cultural scene with announcement of a million dollar sponsorship for the Zanzibar International Film Festival. It was a big deal as it helps the film industry region
ally. For an truly African music experience you probably want to try the other big Zanzibar event the Sauti za Busara music festival. Organised by Busara Promotions, the six-day festival showcases regional music, theatre and dance bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds in celebration of the wealth and variety of Swahili culture. Look out for a performance from the legendary Bi Kidude. For more information please visit the official website.

4. Seychelles International Festival, Victoria, Seychelles, 8-10 February

The Seychelles has come very fast building a festival from scratch into an international behemoth being followed by carnival watchers from all over the planet. The carnival is three days and two nights of partying in one of the most exotic places on the planet. The beauty about the carnival is that you get to sample several carnivals in one as there are official delegations from some of the most famous carnivals in the world from Europe, South America and Africa attend. For more information please visit the official website.


3. Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), late April/early May

In spite of what you might have heard about Zimbabwe the country is more than the police state we see in the media. A good way to kill this perception is to visit the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) is one of Africa’s largest international arts festivals. Now in its 14th year the week long festival is typically held in late April/early May in Harare, Zimbabwe and encompasses theatre, music, dance, fine art, and poetry. For more information please visit the official website.


2. Cape Town Jazz Festival, Cape Town, South Africa 5 – 6 April

The Cape Town Jazz festival often been referred to as “Africa’s grandest gathering” and for a good reason. It is one of the biggest festivals for music on the continent and if you are a jazz music lover you will always get a headline act from a favoured artist. Last year was Lauren Hill (Jill Scott cancelled at the last minute) and the year before when I attended saw Earth wind and fire blow minds. This year’s festival promises the Buena Vista Social Club, the Brand New Heavies and a host of other bands. Even non jazz hardliners will find something to amuse themselves on Cape Town’s legendary Long Street. For more information please visit the official website.


1. Fespaco, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso 23rd February – 2nd March

The Americans have their Oscars and their golden globes. The Brits console themselves with their Bafta and Brits awards while the French have their Cannes Film festival. In Africa we have the still growing AMAA and the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou) or FESPACO the largest African film festival, held biennially. It is THE biggest cultural festival on the festival showing mostly African cinema which as we all know has been growing in a big way in recent times. For more information please visit the official website.