The festival market and subsequent coverage can seem to only focus on North America and Europe, but there is a growing market of events taking place in South America, Asia and Africa as those music scenes develop into dominant forces on the world stage. Oasis Festival in Marrakesh, Morocco is among the leaders of these festivals, bringing some the best house and techno acts to Morocco for the past three years and integrating the local culture and food into the festival. For our latest Industry Insider piece we chat with festival founder Marjana Jaidi about putting on a festival in Morocco, bridging music and culture and booking big-name international DJs for an event like this.
Oasis Festival enters its fourth year, taking place September 14-16 at the Fellah Hotel in Marrakech. The festival has quickly grown to be known for its rare B2B sets and this year will see Actress & Mount Kimbie, Derrick Carter & The Black Madonna & *Alex Niggemann b2b Amine K b2b Denis Horvat go back to back. Other names on the bill include Black Coffee, Carl Cox, Detroit Swindle, Sasha, Peggy Gou, Octo Octa (Live) and Maribou State. Get tickets here.
What made you choose Morocco as your destination?
MJ: I’m half Moroccan and because of that, I spent a lot of time in Morocco growing up, so it wasn’t ever really a question of where I was going to start the festival -- it was always going to be there.
Rabat, Fes & Casablanca are all unique and famous international cities in their own right. What drew you to Marrakech?
They’re all interesting cities, and my family is from Rabat, but Marrakech is especially interesting to tourists. If someone is going to Morocco for the first time, I’d always recommend that they include Marrakech in their visit.
I also visited Marrakech shortly after attending my first festival, which was Miami’s Winter Music Conference in 2009. It appealed to me because the city’s layout is a similar structure in that there are a lot of hotels and beautiful pools. The original concept for Oasis was actually to have a multi-venue event with pool parties. We’ve since found it makes more sense for us to keep everything at one venue but with the option to bounce between three stages.
Why does the festival happen in the fall and not the spring, as a close family friend who lives there says the spring is the best time to visit?
MJ: We wanted the festival to happen at a time when there aren’t a lot of other festivals. The idea of being one of the last festivals of the summer and closing out the season was something that also always appealed to me. We couldn’t do it in the summer because it’s just way too hot in Marrakech, so September felt like the right time.
What is the general makeup of the people who attend? Are they mostly from Europe or local around Northern and Western Africa?
MJ: It’s almost a 50/50 split between Moroccans and internationals, with a few more fans coming from abroad than from Morocco. The countries with the highest attendance other than Morocco are France, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland.
What went into the decision making for booking all of the acts? Is it harder to book acts to come to Morocco versus the US or France?
MJ: The lineup is curated and booked by Darren James-Thomas of FMLY London, and he’s done a phenomenal job for our fourth edition. For the most part, acts have been very open and excited to play in Morocco, especially since for many of them, Oasis is their first time playing in Morocco.
Who proposed the b2b sets?
MJ: Darren also proposes the B2B sets, where the idea is to create rare combinations that are often unique to Oasis. I think it adds something that other festivals might not have when you pair certain DJs in an interesting way.
How will The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) fit into the overall setting of the festival and what would be the best way to approach seeing what is inside?
MJ: We wanted to really step up our game on the art side of things this year, and our collaboration with MACAAL allows us to bring a major local art institution to the festival that shows a different side of Marrakech’s rich cultural scene. In addition to the art that they will be showcasing, there will also be talks, workshops, and activities that allow our attendees to participate in African and Moroccan traditions.
What do you think attendees will take away from the Welcome to the Kingdom space?
MJ: ‘Welcome to The Kingdom’ will exhibit the best of local contemporary culture. The space is curated by Amine Bendriouich, and he is bringing together artists, performers, and designers that are at the forefront of the Moroccan design world to give attendees a taste of the local contemporary art scene.
On the site, there are paid guides to the city for food, drinks and various cultural institutions. How do they align with the festival and would you recommend staying a few extra days?
MJ: We work with Festicket to provide people with the most robust experience possible and also to make it super simple for attendees to book their travel and explore Marrakech. To me, Oasis is as much a vehicle for cultural exploration as it for music discovery. Providing tour packages that fans can add on to their festival experience aligns with what we’re setting out to achieve on-site. We try to represent as much of Morocco and Marrakech as possible at the festival, but that would never replace actual exploration of the city and country.
We also intentionally have doors open a bit later at 4pm so that people can have time to explore outside the festival. If you’re motivated, you can pack everything into the three days, but I would always recommend spending a couple extra days in Marrakech, especially if you’ve never been there to really understand the culture and the surroundings.
How immersed do attendees become in the local culture and traditions?
As the festival has grown, we’ve been able to work with more and more local institutions. The idea isn’t to just have a stand that says ‘pizza’ or a stand that says ‘couscous,’ but rather to work with actual establishments like Cafe Des Epices or Oriental Legend so that our attendees can immerse themselves in a miniature version of Marrakech. This mentality applies not just to food, but also to activities and collaborations.