Morocco hosts many festivals throughout the year, including a fine range of internationally recognized music festivals, feasts, and celebrations linked to the agricultural or Islamic calendar, and regional moussems -- festivals dedicated to local holy men, called marabouts, and displaying a unique blend of Islamic Sufism with traditional Berber beliefs. For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Almond Blossom Festival, Ameln Valley (Tafraoute is the nearest major town). Held in late February to early March when the valley is "snowing" with pink and white blossoms, the festivities move along the valley from one village to the next, with Berber dancing, singing, and, of course, almond tasting. The harvest is heavily dependent on winter rainfall, so contact Ahmed Ouardarass at Tafraout Aventure for dates.
March & April
International Nomads Festival, M'hamid. Styled along the lines of Mali's Festival in the Desert, this Moroccan version has slowly gained in prestige since its inception in 2003, drawing artists from France, Brazil, and Spain. Performances rotate between two sites: one in a specially constructed nomadic camp in the dunes about 20km (12 miles) from the village and only accessible by 4X4, the other on a stage in the village itself. The event is still small-scale and thus yet to be overrun by tourists, and is held over 4 days in mid- to late March or early April. Visit www.nomadsfestival.com for information and current dates.
Moussem of Sidi Abdallah ibn Hassoun, Salé. Held on the eve of Mouloud, the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, this moussem is presided over by local brotherhoods. Commencing at around 3pm and continuing for 3 to 4 hours, a procession of candle bearers (a position handed down from father to son) carry large wax candle lanterns to the Grand Mosque, accompanied by music and dancing.
Rose Festival, El Kelaâ M'Gouna, Dadès Valley. A colorful (and aromatic) festival held in late May that coincides with the harvest of Damask roses in the valley. Music and dancing are accompanied by the obligatory showers of rose petals, and children line the roads selling fresh garlands.
Gnaoua & World Music Festival, Essaouira. This is one of the best known of the country's music festivals, with more than 400 musicians, including Gnaoua bands, Moroccan artists, and international musicians. Essaouira is bursting at the seams during the festival, so book your accommodations early. Concerts are free and held at various outdoor stages around the medina and on the beach. Mid- to late June. Visit www.festival-gnaoua.net.
Moussem of Ben Aïssa, place el Hedim, Meknes. This is one of the country's largest moussems and was traditionally the annual gathering of the Aïssoua brotherhood, known for their extraordinary endurance and self flagellation under trance. They still gather here today, but concentrate more on extended sessions of music, as well as worshiping their marabout, Ben Aïssa, near the entrance into Meknes from Rabat. Other attractions during the festival include a fantasia, where a charge of horses is ridden at full gallop by riders simultaneously firing long-barreled rifles. Takes place over several days on the eve of Mouloud.
TANJAzz, Tangier. This quality jazz festival is held during the latter part of May and attracts some big names from the U.S. and France. Concerts and jazz sessions are held at various hotels throughout the city, including El Minzah Hotel. The festival usually takes place in early June. Visit www.tanjazz.org for information.
Festival of World Sacred Music, Fes. This is another of Morocco's most popular music festivals. The 9-day festival has attracted big names such as South Africa's "white Zulu" Johnny Clegg and U2's Bono, and lives up to its reputation as one of the world's most authentic world music festivals. Concerts are held throughout the city -- some for free -- and occasionally at the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Early June. Visit www.fesfestival.com for information.
International Cultural Festival, Asilah. This 30-year-old festival has rejuvenated the Atlantic fishing village of Asilah, and is perhaps the most dedicated cultural event on the calendar. Throughout the village's medina are performances, lectures, exhibitions, and workshops (some for kids) given by an array of international artists, musicians, intellectuals, and lecturers. The festival runs for the entire month.
Marrakech Popular Arts Festival, Marrakech. Traditional performers from all over the country converge on the city for this 10-day carnival that turns Marrakech into one big, open-air theater. Performances are held in former palaces, on Jemaa el Fna, or simply begin impromptu on the street. Usually held in early July.
Setti Fatma Moussem, Setti Fatma. This moussem is held for 4 days, usually in the middle of August, and celebrates the local marabout whose shrine, or koubba, is upstream from the village. Non-Muslims aren't allowed into the koubba, but the village itself turns out a fantastic carnival, and tourists are welcome. It makes a great day trip from Marrakech.
Imilchil Marriage Festival, Imilchil. The 3-day Fête des Fiancés in the Eastern High Atlas has become just as popular with tourists as it has with the locals. Traditionally, it is a time for the region's unmarried men and women to mix and sometimes match. Usually held the first week of September.
Moussem of Moulay Idriss II, Fes. In late September or early October, thousands gather outside this marabout's tomb, located close to the ancient city's Kairouine Mosque, to watch processions of brotherhoods coming to pay tribute to their saint, the son of Morocco's founding father and creator of Fes.
Date Festival, Erfoud. Once the Tafilalt's delicious dates have been harvested, this otherwise sleepy town at the entrance to Morocco's Sahara comes alive. Performances of Gnaoua and Berber music and dance reflect the region's influences, and there are plenty of free dates to taste. The festival's dates (no pun intended) vary from year to year, according to the harvest. Contact one of the local hotels or restaurants toward the end of September for a better idea of exact days.
Festival International du Film de Marrakech, Marrakech. This is North Africa's version of the popular Cannes festival, screening more than 100 films over 1 week. The festival has attracted big-name Hollywood and Bollywood stars since it began in 2001. The festival dates seem to change every year, so consult their site (www.festivalmarrakech.info) for more details.