Atlas Studios, located in Ouarzazate, Morocco, served as the filming location Game of Thrones, gladiator, and Martin Scorsese Package. But around 3 a.m. on a Sunday in October, it was home to fashion favorite DJ Honey Dijon, spinning tracks near an Agrabah-like street. A few hours earlier, German DJ Koze played a set in front of a re-enactment of Cleopatra’s palace stairs. There were bars that looked like opium dens or prison cells, a VIP lounge that resembled an ancient Egyptian throne room, and a yoga and meditation space on a set built to look like a Nepalese temple. Mbari House, a cultural center, showcases artist talks and the work of photographer Hassan Hajjaj, who has photographed stars such as Billie Eilish and Cardi B. The effect was like a top-level rave happening at a Universal Studios theme park after dark—only it was all happening with African content. Welcome to Oasis Music Festival: Into The Wild, an event that has helped redefine Morocco’s music scene since 2015 and continues to reinvent itself in the process. It’s both a testament to dance music’s growing global appeal and the determination of one woman: festival co-founder and creative director Marianna Jaidi.
Born to a Moroccan father, she spends summers in the country, but gets a taste for the nightlife in the States. She first started out in New York’s club scene, but had an aha moment while visiting Miami during the now-defunct Winter Music Conference, where dance music lovers from around the world gathered to hear sets from the best DJs. If it worked in Miami, why not try in Morocco?
“I was really emotionally affected by the Arab Spring. People were saying bad things about Morocco and just making assumptions because it was an Arab country,” she said during the opening night of the latest festival. “It made me think that if only people could come here, they would see what a great place this is.”
Oasis launched in 2015 on the outskirts of Marrakech, but in the past few years has taken the show on the road to other parts of the country, which fits Jaidi’s vision of showcasing Morocco while creating unique experiences (like this year’s film studio bash) . It also helped solidify the country’s own growing EDM scene. The bill includes local talent such as Amine K, and Jaidi estimates that around half of this year’s tickets were bought by Moroccan nationals. It’s a big change from the early days, when she said many locals were skeptical that the advertised acts would even appear in Morocco.
However, some foreigners still have misconceptions about the country. For the record, alcohol is legal, and style among attendees at this year’s festival, like most other EDM festivals, included more than enough fishnet tops, body paint, and hot pants for all genders. This year, Jaidi also had to fend off criticism from outside for going ahead with the festival after a powerful earthquake hit the country in September. Although the affected areas are still recovering, this has not shut down the country, nor its tourism industry. “I thought it was important to send the message that Morocco is suitable to host people,” she says. “Sometimes people in the West can misinterpret what countries in this part of the world really need, especially Arab countries.”
The success of Oasis has led to the emergence of other festivals in the country, which Jaidi sees as an opportunity to explore larger horizons. She’d love to include more hip-hop acts in the build (dream bookings include Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, The Creator), but even envisions bringing in a pop-country act like Kacey Musgraves.
In the meantime, though, her dance bookings provide more than enough reason to make the transition. In addition to Dijon and Koze, this year also featured Jyoty, Sofia Kurtesis and Major Lazer member Walshy Fire. “Dance music is a pilgrimage, especially like the early rave scene in the UK,” she added. “People had to go far because it wasn’t legal. So the journey is built into the dance music scene.”