The flagship Brooklyn Afropunk Festival happened again on August 25 and 26. Now in its thirteenth year, the festival has exploded exponentially from a community-based weekend of love and black pride to a massive gathering melding music, arts, fashion, activism and black culture into a rainbow swish not unlike the colorful hairstyles dotting the festival like bright pinwheels. For anyone who attended consecutively the past two years, it’s obvious from a mere bird’s eye view that the numbers who’ve flocked across country and traversed borders to attend has risen dramatically within the space of a single trip around the sun.
Afropunk has fast become the IT place primarily for young African Americans—although it is inclusive of everyone—to see and be seen, attracting an array of cultural icons ranging in diversity from legendary activist Angela Davis and actress Issa Ray, who each took the stage, to comedians Tiffany Haddish and Chris Rock, who were mostly just hangin’. Both The Met and The Brooklyn Museum—on the heels of the phenomenally successful David Bowie Is exhibit—also wanted in on the action. Each museum sponsored booths that offered everything from free garland making to formal seated photo portraitures of the Afropunk style innovators that have graced the pages of The New York Times, GQ and Teen Vogue annually for years now, becoming a recognized and celebrated fashion force all their own.
Despite headliners like Miguel, Janelle Monae, and Erykah Badu, who all delivered phenomenal, highly energized performances, the festival still strives to hang onto its punk roots, which at times feels like a tenuously threadbare symbiosis. It’s possible that moving towards more mainstream, yet highly innovative and idiosyncratic performers like Monae and Badu, is simply a necessary formula to keep the festival flourishing and vibrant, suiting the tastes of a primarily mainstream audience. Even still, it’s doubtful that any other festival around the globe showcases as many black folk thrashing it out on guitar more so than Afropunk. Tucked several yards away from the main stage next to the local skate park, the Pink Stage is primed for the tastes of diehard classicists, hosting hardcore ragers like JPEGMAFIA and the awesome Brazilian band Black Pantera, making it the perfect place for punk purists to get those pent up mosh pit-tussles out of their system. Afropunk also dedicated an entire “after dark” set (the offsite afterparty series that have become a regular part of the festival, offering additional late night music or other artistic showcases such as comedy or film screenings after the main stage lights go down) to punk music, showcasing bands such as Rebelmatic, MAAFA, The 1865, and MAJOR TAYLOR.
Activism and a genuine desire to spark positive change has always been a part of the Afropunk manifesto. The mega party weekend was kicked off by a sobering yet vital Solutions Session panel. Hosted by Bridget Todd and Yves Jeffcoat, co-hosts of the Afropunk Solution Sessions podcast, the evening spotlighted a phenomenal and impeccably well-thought-out line-up of women poets, activists, and social scientists such as Tarana Burke, feminist and cornerstone-creator of the vital and still burgeoning “Me Too” movement; the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, a prominent and vital face of The Women’s March; and legendary feminist poet and playwright Notzake Shange, whose 1975 Obie Award-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf has been encapsulated into the heart and soul of legions of women of color.
The fact that Afropunk makes a place for legends like Shange, Angela Davis, and noted soulstress Nona Hendryx—who commanded the mainstage Sunday afternoon with a handful of other amazing vocalists to offer a heartfelt and rousing tribute to Aretha Franklin—alongside the Tyler The Creators and Pusha-Ts of the world, is testament that origin and paying homage to the past—is as vital a part of Afropunk’s future as discovering great new innovators.
Camille A. Collins has an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been the recipient of the Short Fiction Prize from the South Carolina Arts Commission, and her first novel, THE EXENE CHRONICLES, about a young black girl who finds inspiration and identity through the music of the LA punk band X, goes on sale September 25, 2018. She likes writing about music, and has contributed features and reviews to Afropunk and BUST. She lives in New York City.
Marcia E. Wilson is a British-born freelance photographer who documents culture and the arts. Since 1995, Marcia has captured a wide variety of literary events in New York City for leading print and digital platforms. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Vibe Magazine, LA Weekly, Jet Magazine, Caribbean Times, Publishers Weekly, QBR, BUST and Mosaic Magazine, among others places. A collection of her work has also been exhibited at the National Black Writers Conference, Medgar Evers College, New Haven Public Library, and Flatbush Public Library.
Top photo: Adeline, photographed by Marcia Wilson
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