Chaabi music, similar to Western pop music, can always be heard coming from radios in taxis, shops and cafes, and you’ll also hear exotic Gnaoua and classical Arabic music while staying in Morocco.
As well as featuring in everyday life, music plays an important part in celebrations and rituals. It’s at the festivals where you can experience the best of Moroccan music.
These take place throughout the year in the cities and towns, and are spectacular occasions that bring together various musical styles in a celebration of everything that makes Moroccan music special.
So if music makes you travel, choose the beat of Morocco.
The seaside city of Essaouira offers three great music festivals. Every spring 500,000 people attend the Gnaoua World Music Festival. Over four days, Essaouira is filled with the sounds of this traditional style of music which incorporates Berber, African and Islamic spiritual songs and rhythms. The Printemps Musical des Alizes Festival is an event for lovers of the classical genre: chamber music, symphonies, sonatas and opera fill the air. Finally, the autumnal Atlantic Andalusia Festival, a real Moroccan-Spanish celebration with Mediterranean and Latin American influences thrown into the mix.
Every May, Morocco’s capital hosts to one of the biggest music festivals in the world. The Mawazine Rhythms of the World Festival lasts for nine days, takes place on seven stages, and gather more than 2,5 millions people. This massive festival showcases the best African artists around, but also draws in some of the biggest names from the rest of the world – Elton John, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake have all played Mawazine over the past few years.
Saïdia’s major music festival is called The Reggada Festival. Held every August, it’s a tribute to Reggada. This is a traditional form of tribal music from the area which has been brought up-to-date and is now one of the most popular genres in north Morocco. In nearby Oujda, the International Rai Festival is held every July. It celebrates and promotes the music style Rai that originated in Algeria. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to see popular Moroccan and Algerian musicians on stage every year. Another festival in Oujda is the Gharnati Music Festival. It’s held every other March and hosts a variety of orchestras and associations. The name refers to an Arab-Andalusian tradition of music.
Fez is often called Morocco’s spiritual heart, so it’s fitting that it’s the home of the World Sacred Music Festival. This is one of the world’s most important music festivals and has been recognised for its promotion of diverse cultural and religious dialogue.
Every May this gathering of musicians, scholars and religious leaders draws together different musical and cultural traditions and blends them in a series of performances, shows, workshops and exhibitions. It has free daily concerts, and the celebrations go on late into the evening. This week-long festival is a must-attend for anyone seeking the spiritual side of Morocco.
If you love music then you must attend Agadir’s Timitar Festival. Every summer, musicians from around the world congregate in the city to create a cultural and musical exchange. It focus on Amazigh music, art and dance. Artists performing traditional Amazigh music feature on the same bill as modern Maghreb musicians, and you’ll also be able to hear Gnaoua music at the event. Alongside this core of traditional Moroccan music, you’ll be able to hear rap, jazz, Indian, Spanish and Cuban music, and much more besides.
Ouarzazate’s major music festival is a mix of traditional folk music and new interpretations by the best new musicians in the area. It’s a celebration of Ouarzazate’s heritage including Ahidous music – a traditional Amazigh dance involving flowing circles and pounding rhythms – and Ahwash music which is a significant part of Amazigh culture in this region. A combination of dance, poetry and songs, this evocative music is different amongst every tribe.
To see this fantastic folk festival, you need to book your visit to Ouarzazate for September. It’s five days of culture that will live long in the memory.
Tangier’s annual jazz festival, Tanjazz, has been drawing top jazz artists from Morocco and all over the world since the turn of the millennium. For four days every September the city is the best place in all of Africa to enjoy world class jazz. Tanjazz is a mix of large open-air shows and performances in more intimate surroundings in keeping with jazz’s traditional roots. Performers come from around the globe to appear at Tanjazz, and some of the genre’s top bands and individuals have appeared here since the event started. With its free spirit and artistic heritage, Tangier is the ideal place to host this event.
Morocco’s largest city hosts three major music festivals every year. Casablanca Festival is a celebration with great live music, movie screenings, urban art, dance contests... Boulevard is an urban music festival, representing the burgeoning underground music scene of Morocco. Hip-hop, electro, rock, metal and fusion beats can be heard through the three days in September. A more laid-back event is Jazzablanca, a jazz and world music festival that attracts both local talent and international names, like Joss Stone or Ibrahim Maalouf, every September.