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Five African festivals that will give you the travel bug

Post by Evelyn Owen
Procession at Chale Wote 2017
STELOO leading the procession from Brazil Lane to James Fort’s Oyenyi Gardens at the opening of Chale Wote 2017. Photo: Nii Kotei Nikoi


When asked how she engages with Africa, our Interim CEO, Dana Reed, has one answer: “I buy a plane ticket and I go there.”

For anyone interested in Africa-related matters, it’s crucial to spend time in African countries learning about their cultures, histories, economies, and ideas for the future.

But what with the continent’s 54 countries, extraordinary cultural and linguistic diversity, and huge size, it can be hard decide where to begin, especially for anyone new to traveling in this part of the world.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of five African festivals: as a wish-list, and jumping-off point for all our culture-vulture readers. Whether jazz, street art, or film is your thing, inspiration awaits below.

PSSST… you might have noticed elsewhere on our blog that our friends at Brussels Airlines are offering a 20% discount on flights to Africa from JFK. Use the code “WegotheextrasmileVIP” to book your tickets, and start your journey.

1. Chale Wote, Accra, Ghana


If mind-blowing costumes, mysterious street processions, and underground hip-hop sound like your idea of a good time, Chale Wote might just be your new favorite festival.

Taking place in the Jamestown neighborhood of Accra every July/August, Chale Wote is an alternative platform incorporating art, music, dance, and performance. The name means something like “Man, let’s go!” in the Ga language, and it’s an appropriate moniker for this festival that seizes you by the hand and pulls you along on its wave of energy and excitement.

From living installations and street parties to writing workshops and gallery openings, the festival and its satellite events create a frenzy of artistic expression in the city that is wild and wacky, but also incredibly thoughtful. For the organizers, the key lies in bringing art into public spaces, and connecting different artists and communities through art. Juxtaposing the traditional with the modern, the familiar with the strange, and the outspoken with the enigmatic, Chale Wote creates new connections and sparks creativity.

Over 30,000 people attended the festival in 2016, so it’s not surprising that it has been attracting attention beyond Ghanaian circles. VOGUE covered the incredible street styles of this year’s hippest attendees, and the event has also been written up on Okayafrica.

Our video from this year’s hypnotic opening performance is below. Hope to see you there next year!

2. Dak’art Biennale, Dakar, Senegal


Now on its 13th edition, the Dak’art Biennale is one of Africa’s best-established contemporary art events.

Visual artists from across the continent and beyond congregate in Senegal’s capital for a month of exhibitions, performances, talks, openings, and more. As a place to check out up-and-coming artists, get a feel for the issues shaping the “contemporary African art” field, and simply learn more about the range of artistic production in Africa today, Dak’art is hard to beat.

Dak'art 2016 installation
Dak'Art 2016 international exhibition, Installation view, Palais de Justice © C&

The next edition runs May 3 through June 2, 2018, and is entitled “The Red Hour.” Artistic Director Simon Njami elaborates:

“The Red Hour is the coming of age. It is the moment when one emancipates oneself from what has been by transforming it and giving it a new strength. It is the hour of metamorphosis and transformation.”

Njami brings with him an impressive international team of guest curators. We look forward to seeing how they interpret this theme and unravel some of its mysteries…

3. Jazzkif, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo


“The Congolese have music in their blood.” So says Willy Nzofu, singer with the legendary Kinshasa-based rumba band Bakolo Music International.

Now mostly in their 70s, the group’s musicians have been playing together since the 1940s, and show no signs of stopping.

Bakolo Music International graced the stage at this year’s Jazzkif, an annual festival of concerts, dancing, and revelry. The weekend generally features salsa, rumba, and jazz, as well as morna, a sorrowful, haunting style from Cape Verde popularized by the singer Cesária Évora.

Performers in 2017 also included legendary Cameroonian jazz saxophonist Manu Dibango, Congolese musician Ray Lema, Cape Verdean singer Lura, and Colombian salsa star Yuri Buenaventura.

Watch below for Lura‘s performance at this year’s festival.

A post shared by Jazzkif Kinshasa (@jazzkif_kin) on

4. Rwanda Film Festival/Hillywood, Rwanda


The Rwanda Film Festival brings the joy of cinema to a wide audience. During the weeklong event, venues in Rwanda’s capital Kigali show outstanding new Rwandan and international films in screenings that are free and open to the general public.

From the emerging to the established, the local to the global, the festival’s program seeks to “encourage awareness, appreciation and understanding of the art of cinema.” The festival’s founder, filmmaker Eric Kabera, was inspired by attending film festivals elsewhere, where he realized that the attendees “don’t only travel in space but they travel emotionally, culturally and spiritually.”

For the last 13 years, he has brought this journey to Rwandan film enthusiasts. The festival also serves to strengthen connections between Rwandan filmmakers and international names in the film industry.

In addition to the events in Kigali, the festival organizes “Hillywood,” a traveling cinema program of screenings in Rwanda’s rural hill country. 90 percent of the films shown are made in Kinyarwanda, the country’s official language, giving audiences the powerful experience of seeing cinema in their own language, often for the first time.

Rwandan youth enjoying Hillywood.
Rwandan youth enjoying Hillywood.
5. FESPACO, Pan-African Film Festival of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


Another one for film buffs that has been on cultural calendars since 1969: Burkina Faso’s FESPACO, the biggest African film event in the world.

The mayor of Ouagadougou has called his city “the capital of African film,” and during FESPACO, it’s easy to see why.


The red carpet at FESPACO 2017
The red carpet at FESPACO 2017. Photo: Ruth Maclean/the Guardian
Bicycles outside FESPACO venue
Bicycles parked outside the Ciné Burkina, a FESPACO venue. Photo: Ruth Maclean/the Guardian

Film-lovers and professionals travel from around the world to participate in over 100 open-air screenings and panels, and to compete for titles including the prestigious “L’Étalon de Yennega” (“Golden Stallion”).

The festival is known for supporting and promoting emerging film industries as well as established ones, and the variety of countries, languages, and cultures represented is astounding.

FESPACO only takes place every two years, and the next edition isn’t until February 2019, so there’s plenty of time to plan your trip! Or, if you can’t wait that long, simply head to “Ouaga” for local delicacies, green spaces, and bustling markets – a recent “insider’s guide” to the city is here.

Don’t forget!


If you are booking travel to an African destination this holiday season, let Brussels Airlines take you there. Enjoy 20% off your next flight using discount code: “WeGoTheExtraSmileVIP”.


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