Wherever you go in Morocco, you will encounter its rich musical culture of Berber, Andalusian, Arabic and Sahrawi motifs. The country is quickly becoming a popular destination for music festivals that showcase the eclectic musical genres and rhythms in its ancient medinas and modern cities.
Oasis Festival, Marrakech
A newcomer to Morocco’s music festival scene is the three-day Oasis electronic music festival. With the slogan “Dance Somewhere Different,” this festival rivals Ibiza and Croatia for its combination of carefully chosen lineup, party atmosphere and beautiful setting. It kicked off 2018 at the super-stylish Fellah Hotel in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains. The vibrant culture of Morocco is part of the action – offering traditional street food and henna body art. You can start your day in the spa and end it dancing under the stars with a signature cocktail at the bar or hookah bar. Here you can meet many bright house and techno talents: legendary dance music DJ Carl Cox, Korean-Berlin breakout star Peggy Gow and Amin K., ambassador of the Moroccan underground scene, to name a few. In between concerts, you’ll have plenty of time to relax by the pool or do yoga.
Every year the White City hosts a jazz festival that brings together famous and up-and-coming artists from Morocco and around the world. More than 40 concerts take place over nine days in two venues: the Casa Anfa Hippodrome, the oldest in Morocco, where the main stage is located, and The Village, where three concerts of young artists take place every night, as well as presentations on cuisine, fashion and design. Jazz still plays a central role at the festival, with artists such as Sons of Kemet and Kamaal Williams. Pop, rock, blues and funk are represented by the likes of Tom Odell, Beth Ditto and postmodern jukebox Scott Bradley, as well as Cabaret Cheikhat with its unique Moroccan folk singing tradition. DJs such as Moroccan Polyswitch, French hip-hop producer Guts and Spanish duo Jansky can be found here.
World Spiritual Music Festival in Fez, Fez
From Moroccan Sufi singers, Judeo-Arab poets and African-American jazz saxophonists to international headliners such as Bjork and Joan Baez, musicians flock to the city of Fez for the annual World Spiritual Music Festival. It was founded by Sufi scholar Dr. Fauzi Scali to promote religious tolerance, cultural diversity and spiritual values after the Gulf War, and the Fes Forum is still an integral part of the festival. This medieval Medina features music on the theme of ancestral knowledge, with a varied program that includes Bolivian baroque from the Moxos ensemble, jazz and Sufi fusion by Tunisian Dafer Yousef and South African gospel choir Soweto. The famous concerts take place in the imposing Bab al-Makin, while the three Nights in the Medina concerts take place in more intimate venues, including the beautifully restored 17th-century Dar Adiel music conservatory. There are free concerts every night in Bu Jalud Square, and in 2018 the lush oasis of Jnan Sbil Gardens hosted Sufi evenings – also free.
Mawazine Festival, Rabat
Considered the second largest music festival in the world, Mawazine, or Rhythms of the World, attracts more than 2.5 million people, turning the political and administrative capital of Morocco into a huge open-air stage. The festival showcases a variety of musical genres, mixing big names from around the world with well-known and emerging local artists. In 2017, star guests included Rod Stewart, Ellie Golding and Wiz Khalifa, and Bruno Mars was one of the 2018 headliners. The nine-day festival takes place on four main stages and three smaller venues scattered throughout Rabat, including the Souissi International Arena in prestigious Agdal, the African stage in the coastal neighborhood of Bourregreg, a beach scene dedicated to Moroccan music in the suburb of Salé, and Chellah, a historic fortress that hosts World music. Along with providing a platform for local talent and benefiting the local economy, Mawazine offers free access to its concerts, one of the cornerstones of the festival when it was founded in 2002, and the four main stages are still free.
World Music Festival in Gnaoua, Essaouira
One of Morocco’s most popular music events, the Gnaoua World Music Festival draws up to half a million festival-goers to the Atlantic Coast city of Essaouira for four days of open-air concerts. This city has been a permanent home to musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, for many years, but it is best known for Gnaoua, a musical and spiritual tradition brought north by slaves from the southern Sahara in the 16th century, and today it occupies an important place in contemporary Moroccan culture. The hypnotic rhythms of Gnahoua masters such as Mehdi Nasouli and Maalem Mokhtar Guinea, as well as jazz, reggae, blues and contemporary world music await you at this fun festival. The concerts are free and take place in Moulay Hassan Square and elsewhere in Medina, such as Dar Souiri and Marsh au Gren, as well as outside the old city walls. To avoid the crush, you can buy a ticket that gives you access to the VIP area in front of the stage.
The Rose Festival in Morocco
There are very few places in the world where damask roses take root and bloom. The damask rose is a capricious plant and requires a certain soil composition and climatic conditions. One of the rare places where it can grow is El Kelaa M’Gouna in Morocco high in the High Atlas Mountains. This magical place, called the Vallée Des Roses (valley of roses), seems to be covered in a Persian carpet of white-pink damask roses in the spring.
Some say that the first Persian rose was brought to the valley in the 10th century by pilgrims from Mecca. The more official version is that the fragrant Damascus rose was brought here by the French in 1938.
Shortly thereafter a factory was opened that still manufactures damask roses, which are very famous worldwide.
In this small town, roses are the lifeblood of the town, from their cultivation to the production of rose water. Today almost every rose product (perfume, oil, water) is created in this place. Roses are exported in huge trucks, and create an aura of fragrant air as they travel the streets. Roses here are not counted by quantity, but by weight. It is in May that this rose blooms and the petals are harvested to produce a very valuable hydrolat (rose water) and rose oil by distillation.
THE ROSE HOLIDAY
The flowers of damask rose are picked in the middle of May. And every year this town holds a Festival dedicated to this queen of flowers. In 2016, the 54th festival was held, it started on May 12 and lasted four days.
During these days, the town is filled with colorful processions, dancing, songs, the scent of this magical flower and delicious food! People dress in pink and white, and many wear flower necklaces.
Everyone is showered with rose petals. One of the interesting episodes of the program is called “The Bee Dance.” Dancers in national costumes to the tambourine and flute tell the story of the flower in which the bee fell in love. Processions of chariots with roses and girls pass through the town.
The culmination of the festivities is a contest to become the Queen of the Rose, with unmarried Moroccan Berber women in traditional dress. The queen is solemnly carried through all the streets of the city, while residents and guests enjoy her beauty.