x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Our guide to this summer's Middle Eastern music festivals

From Morocco to Lebanon and Turkey, the musical festival scene is thriving in the region, offering eclectic acts and stunning scenery.

Deep Purple. Paul Bergen / EPA
Deep Purple. Paul Bergen / EPA

From Morocco to Lebanon and Turkey, the musical festival scene is thriving in the region, offering eclectic acts and stunning scenery.


Where: Rabat, Morocco

When: Friday to June 1

Who: Rihanna, Mohamed Mounir, David Guetta, Tinariwen, Enrique Iglesias, Deep Purple and many more

Flight time from the UAE: eight hours and 30 minutes

When was the last time you saw Najwa Karam and Deep Purple on the same bill? Such is the magic of the Mawazine, one of Africa’s largest music festivals bringing the best from the East and West. Held in various venues across the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Mawazine returns for its 12th edition with big names catering to tourists and the locals. With impromptu street shows and art workshops, Mawazine is an immersive experience for world music lovers and those wanting more from their Moroccan holiday.


Dumtak Festival

Where: Amman, Jordan

When: Tuesday to June 1

Who: DAM, Cairokee and Mashrou’ Leila

Flight time: three hours and 10 minutes

Those sick of hearing the processed sounds of Arab pop should revel in what is dubbed as a new festival dedicated to “alternative Arabic music”. Held at Amman’s Bisharat Golf Club, some of the acts made news headlines with their tunes. The Palestinian hip-hop group DAM’s politically charged lyrics built them a regional cult following, while Cairokee have created waves in Egypt for rock songs focusing on the recent revolution.


Gnawa World  Music Festival

Where: Essaouira, Morocco

When: June 20 to 23

Who: Youssou N’Dour, Will Calhoun and Maâlem Abdelkader Amlil

Flight time: eight hours and 30 minutes

Gnawa is the original trance music. The mystical genre, mostly practised in north Africa, transfixed generations for more than 500 years. The festival, held in the western coastal city of Essaouira, not only celebrates the art form but invites international artists to take part in jam sessions with gnawa masters – referred to as Maalem’s. The traditional Emirati folk group Annadi Al Bahri are one of the headliners alongside the world music star Youssou N’Dour.


Jerash Music Festival

Where: Jerash, Jordan

When: June 26 to July 6

Who: Kadim Al Saher, Nancy Ajram, Carol Samahy and Ayman Zeib

Flight time: three hours and 10 minutes

Held amid the ancient Roman ruins of Jerash, the Arab music festival is mostly concerned with modern sounds. A who’s who of the Arab music world will perform among the city’s ancient ruins.


Baalbek International Festival

Where: Lebanon

When: June 30 to August 30

Who: Marianne Faithful, Renée Fleming, Assi Helani

Flight time three hours and 20 minutes

The old dame of Arab music festivals. The annual gathering, held in various venues in the ancient Roman city, has been pulling crowds and big acts since 1955. This year’s drawcard is the rock legend Marianne Faithful. The hometown hero Assi Helani will perform with a full orchestra while the American soprano Renée Fleming opens the festival with a show at the ancient Bacchus Temple.


Byblos Festival

Where: Byblos, Lebanon

When: June 30 to July 4

Who: Yanni and Nightwish

Flight time: three hours and 20 minutes

Don’t let the first batch of headliners fool you. The festival has more to offer than Muzak and symphonic metal. Last year, a colourful array of acts took the outdoor stage in front of a 12th-century castle. Headliners included the legendary bluesman BB King, the French crooner Julien Clerc, in addition to Slash and Snow Patrol.


Istanbul Jazz Festival

Where: Istanbul, Turkey

When: July 2 to 18

Who: Alicia Keys, John Legend and Bryan Ferry

Flight time: four hours and 45 minutes

Since 1994, the citywide festival has attracted some of the leading names from the jazz and pop worlds. This year’s performers living up to the reputation include the American vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, the saxophonist David Sanborn and the Syrian singer Lena Chamamyan.


Tbilisi Open Air

Where: Tbilisi, Georgia

When: June 5

Who: Deep Purple, Tricky and Infected Mushroom

Flight time: three hours and 20 minutes

Accessible from Dubai through budget airlines, a trip to the one-day Georgian festival could make for a fine, quick holiday. The headliners appeal to various tastes, with Deep Purple’s Dubai Jazz Festival performance back in March showing the old dogs still rock hard. Trip-hop fans should enjoy Tricky’s performance, while Infected Mushroom will provide the dance beats. Also on the bill are the indie-group The Subways and the French dance-rock group Black Strobe.


Rock’n Coke 2013

Where: Istanbul, Turkey

When: September 6 to 8

Who: Arctic Monkeys, Hurts, Dog is Dead and Duman

Flight time: four hours and 45 minutes

A good chance to see the Arctic Monkeys on their latest world tour in addition to sampling new tunes from the synth-pop duo Hurts. Turkey also boasts a strong rock scene and Duman will be flying the flag. The alternative group mixes Turkish folk with hard rock to create a sound all their own. The festival is held in the fields of Hezarfen Havaalani, a private airport.


Festival in the Desert

Where: Timbuktu, Mali

When: early next year

Headliners: expect a variety of African artists and world music acts

Flight time: 15 hours

Even the dire travel warnings by western governments didn’t stop Bono and his wife from attending the Timbuktu-based festival in January. Performing on stage were festival regulars such as the desert bluesmen Tinariwen as well as leading African lights Bassekou Koyate, Habib Koite, Noura Mint Seymali and Vieux Farka Toure. The draw card, however, is the desert location, complete with midnight desert parties and outdoor camping. However, one needs to examine the fluid security conditions closer to the time before buying tickets.


A few more class acts

If the rowdy festival crowds are not your thing, here are artists playing stand-alone shows in the region


A crowd favourite in the region, the Senegalese rapper will perform at Beirut’s premier music venue, the Forum de Beyrouth, on June 22. www.ticketingboxoffice.com

Roger Waters

A must for Pink Floyd fans. Waters will perform the legendary album The Wall at Istanbul’s ITU Maçka Campus Amphitheatre on August 3. www.biletix.com

Slayer and Cradle of Filth

Metal heads will salivate at the double bill on June 29 at Istanbul’s Sariyer Park. www.biletix.com

Linkin Park and The Smashing Pumpkins

Sure, Hong Kong is a nine-hour flight away. However, those considering a trip to the popular destination have the option of checking out the 1990s rock kings The Smashing Pumpkins on August 13 followed by Linkin Park two days later. www.hkticketing.com


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