10 World Music Festivals You Shouldn’t Miss

Posted May 6, 2013 by Jenny O'Connor in Top 10

For any kind of music lover – whether it’s world music, classical or jazz – a live performance is the ultimate musical experience; and there is not a better live music experience than a music festival. This is usually a great opportunity to see acts play live that you already know as well as to discover some up and coming new gem that you can claim discovery of when they’re topping the charts the following year. A world music festival is all of this and more! It is the music lover’s chance to experience musical acts that they might never have the chance to otherwise. Where else can you experience roots, traditional, local and folk music from all four corners of the globe over one weekend? You might not release it – as world music usually has to vie for publicity against main stream music – but there are hundreds and thousands of world music celebrations all over the world every year. To help you plan your next festival, here is a list of the top ten world music festivals around the world:

1. du World Music Festival

Where: Dubai

When:  28th March – 6th April 2013

Years running: 3

Artist playing you may know: Andrea Bocelli, Guns n’ Roses and Natalie Cole.

Artists you may not know, but should: Frank Gambale (Australian jazz), Eraserheads (Philipino rock) and Shamma Hamdan (last year’s winner of Arabs Got Talent).

Why go: Progressive musical celebration from a conservative part of the world. Although this is a young festival, the extensive media coverage indicates that this growing venture is likely to keep getting bigger and better every year! Keep an eye on this festival as it is likely to be a predictor of big talent to come.

2. Penang World Music Festival

Flickr image by Paul Ponnudorai

Where: Penang (beautiful island in South-East Asia

When: 30th and 31st March 2013

Years running: 6

Artist playing you may know:  Kimi Djabate (West Africa)

Artists you may not know, but should: MU (Portuguese folk) and Saharadja (Indonesian fusion/ experimental)

Why go: Carefully selected line-up of fusion and true traditional music in a stunning location. Although this is a popular festival on the world music scene they avoid booking just the big names and have stayed loyal to the smaller, local artists.



Flickr image by Musica Minas

Where: This year – Cardiff, Wales

When: 23nd – 27rd October 2013

Years running: 19

Artist playing you may know: Applications are still being received for this year’s event and the final line-up will be chosen by 7 expert judges. The line-up is certain to include traditional and fusion Welsh music as well as other international and Celtic acts. Past artists have included Ojos de Brujo, Bomba Estéreo and Tinariwen.

Artists you may not know, but should: All of the lesser known Welsh artists who will perform here. Welsh musical history comprises a vast repertoire of songs, poems and musical numbers passed on orally from generation to generation; and as many Welsh people tend to not migrate from Wales, this is one of the few opportunities to hear this music. 

Why go:  A great event for bringing music professionals and local artists together who may not otherwise meet. This event bridges cultural gaps and increases cultural awareness and appreciation of the local. Events include a trade fair, conference, an award ceremony, film screenings and the music showcase festival, whose theme this year is Welsh music.



Flickr image by Manu Mateos

Where: Different locations all over the world each year, the festival has covered 27 destinations so far!

When: All year round at different times in different places.

Years running: 33

Artist playing you may know: Artists from previous years include Simple Minds, Echo and The Bunnymen, Peter Gabriel, Asian Dub Foundation, Afro-Celt Sound System, Neneh Cherry, Gilberto Gil and Ondatropica.

Artists you may not know, but should: Toots and the Maytals, Bombay Royale, Sam Lee & Friends – (All playing at WOMAD Charlton Park, UK from 25th – 28th July 2013)

Why go: It’s only the first and biggest world music festival in existence and you will have no problem finding one near you. Need I say more?


5. Rainforest World Music Festival

Flickr image by Global Music Cultur.

Where: Borneo, Malaysia

When: 28th – 30th June 2013

Years Running: 8

Artist playing you may know: Kila (That Irish/ Celtic super-group!), Spiritual Seasons (Medieval, Irish and Scandinavian fusion from Ukraine), Pine Leaf Boys (4 time Grammy Award winning Cajun music from Louisiana) 

Artists you may not know, but should: Mohsen Sharifian & The Lian Band (Traditional music with high bag-pipes, flutes and high energy from Southern Iran) and Habadekuk  (9 piece folk, salsa and big band jazz fusion group from Denmark)

Why go: Listed as one of the 25 best international festivals in the world for the past 4 years running by Songlines Magazine, this is one of the most highly respected world music festivals internationally. It runs a world music expo alongside the music which features conferences, workshops, forum discussions, trade fairs, and of course many, many music performances.


6. Musicport Festival

Flickr image by Bryan Ledgard

Where: Whitby Pavilion, UK

When:  18th – 20th October 2013

Years running: 13

Artist playing you may know: The Neville Staple Band (i.e. lead singer from The Specials), Tamikrest (Malaysia), Chumbawamba (UK anarchic folk band)

Artists you may not know, but should: Amira (dubbed the “Bosnian Billie Holiday”), Peace Artists (up to twenty musicians playing sax, brass and percussion from West Yorkshire)

Why go: One of the few world music events in the UK that don’t just promote British folk and Celtic Traditional. For people living in the UK this is an easy festival to get to and a great chance to see world music without going to the other side of the world. Also, the town of Whitby has a great music shop also called ‘Musicport’ shop.


7. WOMADelaide

Flickr image by Stephan Rigway

Where: Botanic Park in inner-city Adelaide

When: 7th – 10th March 2014

Years Running: 21

Artist playing you may know: (from 2013 – 2014 TBA): Antibalas (USA), Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), The Tallest Man on Earth, (Sweden), and Amparo Sanchez (Spain).

Artists you may not know, but should: LA-33 (Colombia), Salif Keita (Mali), Hugo Mendez (UK), Swamp Thing (New Zealand) and Moriarty (France)

Why go: A brilliant example of a top quality WOMAD festival – yet unique in its own right. WOMADelaide includes a plethora of dancers, DJs, contemporary and traditional music, world cooking workshops, a KidsZone, environmental discussions, food and retail stalls and the all important Artists in Conversation event.


8. Oslo World Music Festival

Flickr image by AnnaKika

Where: Oslo, Norway

When: 29th Oct- 3rd November 2013

Years running: 19

Artist playing you may know: Fatoumata Diawara (Mali), Ana Moura (Portugal), EthioAction (ETH/NL/SWE/NO) and El Gusto (Algeria/France)

Artists you may not know, but should: Los Plantronics (mariachi death surf from Norway), Hola Ghosts (Mexican psychobilly from Denmark), and The Münsters (lo-fi horror garage rock from Switzerland).

Why go: There is a “Pussy Riot” themed seminar being held this year about “art as a political statement and the freedom of speech in Russia”. Speakers include Ksenia Sobchak, dubbed Russia’s Paris Hilton; Ilya Yashin, infamous political activist and one of the leaders of the infamous Solidarnost Movement; John Peder Egenæs, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Norway; and Katya Samutsevich and Yozh from Pussy Riot. Also, the Oslo World Music Festival is one of Europe’s most well respected world music events.


9. The Førde Traditional and World Music Festival

Flickr image by Paul Hudson

Where: Førde (150 km north of Bergen in Southern Norway)

When: 4th – 7th July 2013

Years running:  23

Artist playing you may know: Malick Pathé Sow & Bao Sissoko (Senegal), Sarah Savoy & the Francadians (Paris and Louisiana)

Artists you may not know, but should: DJ 99 (Norway), Kalakan (Basque country, Spain) and Oque Strada (Portugal).

Why go: Scandinavia’s largest festival for traditional world music and dance. The festival hosts a massive 300 artists from around 30 nations. It is held in one of the most beautiful places in the country and somewhere you definitely shouldn’t miss if you ever visit Finland. Førde – as the name suggests – is a stunning expanse of fjord-land comprising wide fjords, towering mountains and shimmering rivers. Quite fittingly, this year’s theme is nature as source of musical inspiration!


10. Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

Flickr image by Fulvio

Where: Fes, Morocco

When: 7th – 15th June 2013

Years running: 19

Artist playing you may know: Patti Smith (USA), Paco de Lucia (Spain), and Ladysmith Chicago Gospel Experience (South Africa).

Artists you may not know, but should: Abeer Nehme (Lebanon), Carmen Linares (Spain), Istanbul: The Golden Gate (Turkey), Nomadic Voices of the Steppes and the Mountains (Sardinia, Mongolia)

Why go: This unique world music festival combine’s religious/ spiritual music with traditional roots music. Its mission is to promote cultural awareness and acceptance. This year’s theme is the Andalusian heritage of “Morocco’s Spiritual Capital” – Fes. The festival holds four important forums around various economic, social and political issues centered on each year’s theme. This year’s World Festival of Sacred Music theme is the impact of globalisation.


Have you been to any of the world music festivals on this list? Tell us all about your experience in the comment section below!


About the Author

Jenny O'Connor

Jenny O' Connor is a travel writer and music journalist who specializes in world music. She is passionate about promoting local, traditional and roots music from all over the world at a global level. She currently writes for her world music travel blog as well as the Sprachcaffe Languages Plus Organization among other temporary work including a number of music and travel magazines/blogs.

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