Wherever you travel in Morocco, you’ll hear its rich musical culture, with everything from Berber, Andalusian, Arabic and sub-Saharan influences. The country is fast becoming a top destination for music festivals, which showcase eclectic musical genres and rhythms across its ancient medinas and modern cities. Here are five of our favourite places to tune in.
Oasis Festival, Marrakesh
The new kid on Morocco’s music festival scene is the grown-up, three-day electronic music festival Oasis. With the strapline ‘Dance Somewhere Different’, this sun-soaked, chilled-out festival rivals Ibiza and Croatia with its combination of a carefully curated lineup, party atmosphere and beautiful setting – in 2018 the super-stylish Fellah Hotel, in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains. Morocco’s vibrant culture is part of the experience – there’s traditional street food and henna body art on offer – and you can start your day at the spa and end it dancing under the stars with a craft cocktail in the champagne bar or the shisha lounge. The lineup is a soundtrack of some of house and techno's most exciting talent: dance-music legend DJ Carl Cox, breakout star Korean-Berliner Peggy Gou and Amine K, the ambassador of Morocco’s underground scene, to name a few. Between sets, there’s plenty of time for lounging by the pool or yoga sessions.
Every year, the White City plays host to Jazzablanca, which mixes up well-known and up-and-coming artists from Morocco and around the globe. More than 40 concerts are spread over nine days and two venues: the Casa-Anfa racecourse, the oldest in Morocco, is home to the main stage, and the Village, which holds three concerts by young artists every evening, as well as presentations on cuisine, fashion and design. Jazz still plays a central role in the festival, with artists such as Sons of Kemet and Kamaal Williams. Pop, rock, blues and funk also feature, with acts such as Tom Odell, Beth Ditto and Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, along with Kabareh Cheikhats’ contemporary tribute to a unique Moroccan folk-singing tradition. DJs also make an appearance, including Moroccan Polyswitch, French hip-hop producer Guts and Spanish duo Jansky. New for the 13th edition in 2018 is an activities offshoot called Le Off, with three professional music workshops, three roundtables and a masterclass led by legendary American jazz trombonist Fred Wesley.
Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Fez
From Moroccan Sufi chanters, Judeo-Arabic poets and African-American jazz saxophonists to international headliners such as Björk and Joan Baez, musicians flock to the imperial city of Fez for its annual Festival of World Sacred Music. Going strong for almost three decades, it was founded by Sufi scholar Dr Faouzi Skali with the aim of promoting religious tolerance, cultural diversity and spiritual values post-Gulf War, and the Fes Forum is still an integral part of the festival. This year, music will ring out across the medieval medina on the theme of Ancestral Knowledge, with a diverse programme including Bolivian Baroque from the Moxos Ensemble, the jazz-Sufi fusion of Tunisian Dhafer Youssef and South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir. Big-name concerts are held at the imposing Bab Al Makina, while three ‘Nights in the Medina’ sessions take place at more intimate venues, including the beautifully restored 17th-century music conservatory Dar Adiyel. Free concerts are held every evening in Bou Jeloud Sq, and in 2018 Sufi Nights – also free – was held in the lush oasis of the Jnan Sbil Gardens.
Festival Mawazine, Rabat
Mawazine, or Rhythms of the World – said to be the world’s second largest music festival – draws more than 2.5 million people, turning Morocco’s political and administrative capital into a massive open-air stage. The festival showcases eclectic musical genres, mixing up big names from around the globe with established and emerging local artists. In 2017, star turns included Rod Stewart, Ellie Goulding and Wiz Khalifa, and Bruno Mars features as one of 2018's headliners. The nine-day festival is spread over four main stages and three smaller venues scattered around Rabat, including the international OLM Souissi arena in upscale Agdal, the African stage in the riverside district of Bouregreg, the beachfront stage focusing on Moroccan music in the suburb of Salé, and the Chellah, a historic fortress that plays host to world music. Along with providing a platform for homegrown talent and benefiting the local economy, Mawazine offers free access to its concerts, one of the festival’s cornerstones when it was founded in 2002, and the four main stages are still free.
Gnaoua World Music Festival, Essaouira
One of Morocco’s most popular music events, the Gnaoua World Music Festival attracts up to half a million festivalgoers to the Atlantic coast city of Essaouira for four days of open-air concerts. The laid-back city has been a regular haunt of musicians over the years, including Jimi Hendrix, but it’s most famous for gnaoua, a musical and spiritual tradition brought north by sub-Saharan slaves in the 16th century, and today it has an important place in modern Moroccan culture. Expect the hypnotic rhythms of gnaoua masters such as Mehdi Nassouli and Maâlem Mokhtar Guinea, along with jazz, reggae, blues and contemporary world music at this feel-good festival. Concerts are free, held in Place Moulay Hassan and other spots inside the medina such as Dar Souiri and the Marche aux Grain, as well as outside the old city walls. To avoid the crush, invest in a ticket that will give you access to a VIP area in front of the stage.