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Nicki Minaj Festival sparks boycotts in Morocco amid Gaza war

'No festivals amid genocide': Morocco's Mawazine festival sparks boycott over 'insensitive timing'
4 min read
23 May, 2024
This year, many Mawazine-goers have decided to boycott the event, deeming attending the festival "insensitive" amid Israel's war on Gaza.
In 2012, the festival management said Mawazine has become independent of public funds. [Getty]

In Morocco, an upcoming festival headlined by American rapper Nicki Minaj has ignited a wave of boycotts. Critics argue it's hardly the time to party with the ongoing war in Gaza and the continuing tragedies in Moroccan earthquake-stricken villages.

Rabat is set to host the first edition of the international festival Mawazine late in June, which is the first since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The music festival, organised since 2001, is making a solid comeback this year, with headliners such as British rapper Central Cee, Nigerian singer Burna Boy, and American producer Metro Boomin.

It will also feature several Arab stars, such as Angham, Haifa Wehbe, and Najwa Karam, and a fully booked hologram show of Umm Kulthum.

Most performances will be free for fans, with VIP tickets selling at US$100 and an unlimited access gold card starting at US$500.

While many Moroccan fans are excited to watch their favourites perform on the capital's six outdoor stages, others are outraged and vow to leave the festival without spectators.

"A year after the September earthquake, people are still living in camps without access to basic hygiene. The festival budget could be dedicated to such causes. A music festival should not be our priority," said Aya, a Moroccan student supporting the boycott Mawazine campaign on social media.

Funding Controversy: from public to private

Mawazine is no stranger to controversy and boycotts. Its massive funding has often been the reason.

According to boycotters, the festival was funded through state-owned companies such as ONCF (the national rail company) and Royal Air Maroc—money they believe could be better spent on essential sectors like health and education.

This year, the criticism is louder as over 2 million people affected by last year's strong earthquake are still living in makeshift camps, waiting for the state-sponsored rehabilitation project of the affected Amazigh villages.

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In 2011, during a wave of pro-democracy protests, the management of Mawazine clarified that the festival's budget was around 62 million MAD (Us$6.2 million), with 27 million MAD (US$2.7 million) provided by sponsors and 35 million MAD (US$3.5 million) from event revenues.

"Only 4 million MAD are granted by Rabat's city council," a Mawazine management source told local media at the time.

A year later, the festival management said Mawazine has become independent of public funds, relying on 32% from private sponsors and 68% from variable revenue, according to local media L'opinion.

'No Festivals Amid the Genocide'

This year, the festival faces more heat amid rising pro-Palestine solidarity in Morocco. Many Mawazine-goers have decided to boycott the event, deeming attending a music festival "insensitive" amid the war in Gaza.

"This year, I can't go. We can't be celebrating and dancing amid the genocide committed against Palestinians in Gaza," declared Sara, a Mawazine-goer who is set to boycott the event this year.

On May 19, thousands chanted in Casablanca, "What does Palestine need, parties and Mawazine," mocking the inconvenient timing of the festival.

Meanwhile, some are opposing the festival for religious and cultural reasons. In 2015, the Moroccan government deemed Jennifer Lopez's dance performance at the festival a "breach of public decency".

However, some music enthusiasts wished that the festival management had invited Palestinian artists to draw more attention to their plight and turn the festival into a moment to celebrate the Palestinian cause and resistance.

"They could also invite Amazigh artists from the quake-hit villages and donate some of the revenue to those villages and to people in Gaza," suggests Ali, a loyal fan of Samira Said, who, despite frowning upon Mawazine management, is making an exception to attend his favourite's performance during the festival.

Additionally, many European fans are set to flock to Morocco to attend the festival, namely to attend the long-anticipated performance by Starships singer Nicki Minaj.

Despite boycott calls, Mawazine was ranked the number-one festival in the world in 2019, attracting an impressive 2,750,000 concert-goers across the festival's six stages.