Photos by Anthony Blue and Jonathan Stafford.
From the beautiful black faces all around, to the musical muses on three different stages, AFROPUNK Festival was a mecca of talent, fashion and pride. Known as the platform for the “other black experience”, AFROPUNK has provided many (though catered to people of color, but not limited to) with an outlet to feel comfortable and truly understand their place within the black community.
The festival itself has been a summer staple in Brooklyn since 2005 and expanded to Paris and Atlanta just this year. AFROPUNK doesn’t fall in the same category as others, their initiative isn’t just to get your body moving, it’s bigger than that. They have “a global initiative aimed to form an alliance dedicated to moving the needle of progress closer to a holistic, democratic and enlightened representation of people of color within all facets of society with the goal to create unique programming that encourages diversity in media”.
To be quite honest, this festival is my favorite to date. It was a bitch getting there, (thanks American Airlines and all your delayed flights) but worth every minute of it. I even ran into someone while thrashing to Death Grips, who was also stuck at the airport on Friday. The gleam on our faces alone reminded me that I was right where I belonged.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I needed to be prepared for anything. The park grounds was full of authenticity, great energy and must I reiterate, so many BEAUTIFUL BLACK FACES. While I was in a daze, I managed to get acquainted with the Red Stage (punk) and the Green Stage(soul), but surprisingly never made it to the Gold Stage.
I started the day with a few acts I had never heard and I was glad I did.
While I at the Green Stage I caught Adia Victoria. I could hear that southern twang in her voice and knew I was in for a treat. Rolling Stones describes her sound as “PJ Harvey covering Loretta Lynn at a haunted debutante ball.” Need I say more?
I caught this young act at the Red Stage, and they were full of energy and crossed a veracious bridge of punk and rap. Seven dudes made up this task force; drums, bass, keys, saxophone, rapping and hype men included. Hailing from New York they felt right at home performing in Brooklyn, and they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on. Sidenote: I peeped the Hood By Air gear on stage, little homies were on point 😉
Running back to the Green Stage to catch some of Lion Babe was a must. Also hailing from New York, Jillian Harvey was flawless on that stage giving us her all. The crowd sang along and stood in awe at her mentionable lucious mane, that was in the biggest mohawk I’ve ever seen. The only thing I wish was different about the set was that it lasted longer. We’re anxiously waiting for more music Lion Babe!
First lady of TDE (Top Dawg Ent.) never disappoints. Her bubbly laugh, killer red hair and relatable music makes me think just maybe we could be best friends sooner than later?! She rocked her set with a full crowd and good vibes. Playing all of her favorites and a few new jams (and mentioning that her parents were in attendance), SZA is climbing the ladder into everyone’s hearts. Le sigh, that girl has some chords on her!
By this point, my phone was low, I was itching to explore the grounds and the food options, and I had lost Anthony in the masses. However, throughout my time there I kept running into faces from Dallas. Before I knew it, there was a mini family squad from Texas taking on AFROPUNK.
This lady was the pioneer who showed me the ways of the “other black experience”. From her early days with The Neptunes, to being married to the king (Nas), and now making big moves into the food industry, Kelis has always been an inspiration and her performance was nothing less than. Her baby bump didn’t stop her from enjoying herself on stage and I’m glad it didn’t.
As much as I love eccentric soul, trip-hop and ladies that can belt, I was dying to get back to the thrashing. Luckily for me Suicidal Tendencies were up next on the Red Stage, and the thrashing did in fact ensue. The mosh pit kept growing and the music kept going. Though it wasn’t all of the original band mates on stage, I’m still glad I can check their set off my bucket list. Thanks for the thrash.
Danny Brown is the definition of turn up, he never fails to have a party during his sets! AFROPUNK provided him with the perfect audience, the punks were still thrashing and the hip hop heads still bobbing. His high energy and IDGAF attitude was a must and an added gem to the festival.
My little heart, my poor little heart. Y’all don’t understand how anxious I’ve been to see these dudes wreck havoc. I love Death Grips and was so bummed I missed them in Dallas. They came on while I was waiting in line for some truffle fries (yeah, truffle!) and I almost peed my pants when Stephen Burnett’s voice roared across the speakers. Death Grips played all the right songs, gems from Exmilitary and The Money Store were my favorite. They rounded out my thrashing for the night and I checked off another band on my bucket list.
Ms. Lauryn Hill
If you don’t know who this woman is by now, I’m praying for you. She is a true legend and even though she’s been under a bad light in her latter years, she is still a queen. However, this queen isn’t too good with punctuation, showing up about an hour late for her set on the Green Stage. By the time she got on stage I had wandered off, networked, got even more beer and hung with more friends. I was able to catch the end of her set, but it got cut short and left a sour taste in my mouth. As shitty as that sounds, I still love her.
While Hill left a sour taste in my mouth, Jones revived me with her theatrical stage appearances and knocking beats. I should know more about this iconic woman, but her performance alone gave me a true definition of what Afropunk looks like and that’s all I needed. From her white body paint and her welcomed magical soul-taking aura, to hula hooping and singing AT THE SAME DAMN TIME, it’s safe to say momma got a brand new fan. I’m a slave to her rhythm.
Saturday wore me out, but I’m a vet to the game so round two only means it’s time to go harder. Clearly I wasn’t the only one on that level, because Sunday welcomed even more to Commodore Barry Park. I did take note of the lack of punk bands on the line up, but at the same time wasn’t mad at who would be on the stage. I felt like I was inside a sound cloud (see what I did there). With Goldlink, Soulection, Kaytranada and Kelela, just to name a few, I couldn’t really complain.
This South African muse started my day off with a whirlwind of sounds. Think, if Tv On The Radio and LCD Soundsystem had a baby and that baby has heavy metal tourettes. Yeah, pure gold. He rocked the red stage and gradually gained a bigger audience as his set continued. He showed up rocking silver hair and had a killer band behind him to carry out his work from his solo project. He’s definitely someone I recommend you keep on your radar, if he isn’t already there.
The king. Magical bassist Stephen Bruner blessed AFROPUNK with his presence back on the Green Stage. I was right in front (like, duh) harmonizing to his chords and high pitched lyrics. He had his wolf mane and Deadpool socks on as he mesmerized the crowd throughout his whole set. He played some oldies for the loyal fans (aka me and my boy Nic Harris) and hit us right in the heart with his new material from “The Beyond/ Where The Giants Roam”. He is just too humble and talented for his own good!
Now I’m one for conspiracy theories and music critiques, so with the rumors of Raury being a systematic pond I had to check out his set. It was rather bizarre how many people showed up to see the 19-year-old Atlanta-native. He rocked his straw hat and southern hospitality all while controlling the large mass of people with love and stage presence. I felt like I was in church during his set. He had us hugging our neighbors, super in the feels and created this “one love” kind of aura over the whole area. Music is a powerful drug and we were all sippin’ the koolaid. All rumors aside, the kid has a way about him and it’s positive and fun. I’m glad I was able to catch him live and am interested to see what’s next for young Raury.
Hailing from the DMV (Maryland), Goldlink was one of the main acts I wanted to see. From his minimal approach into the music world to his infectious songs and relatable lyrics, I’ve been hooked on this artist. He also had a way with the crowd, I didn’t see one still person out there. He even switched up his set and threw in some old school hip hop jams that took things to the next level. It was so hot and everyone was sweating, but the turn up kept right on. If you ever get an opportunity to see him live, take it and thank me later.
This little chocolate drop has been my muse even before she came on the scene in 2013 with “Cut 4 Me”. Now with shorter dreads, Kelela took the stage and had all the girls in their feelings. I sing along every time I listen to her and it was no different during her set. She was so gracious of all the love she received and purposefully played all the songs she thought the crowd would want to hear. Can I also mention her outfit was on point. Those pants are to die for. Let’s go thrifting the next time I’m in New York?
Gary Clark Jr.
I’m not even from Texas, but all my Texas pride came to the surface when Gary Clark Jr. hit the stage. This Austin-native played to an older crowd over on the Green Stage (not to say there was any lack of energy, just a more calming) and had such a great set. I listened from a distance as I recharged my phone and fueled up for the rest of the night. Another one for the books. If you’re in Texas make sure to catch him in Austin.
So turns out there is a third stage that I completely missed the first night. If it wasn’t for Sam Dew and Soulection playing at the Gold Stage, I probably would have never made the walk down. Sam Dew is a new name for me but one to keep an eye on. From a glance he wouldn’t look like someone who has the voice of an angel, but sweet lord this man can sing. Though this singer-songwriter wasn’t on my radar before, he caught big names like Wale, Rihanna and Miguel’s attention. His first solo debut, Damn Sue, was a major collaboration with Tv On The Radio’s Dave Sitek – and now I’m sold.
Soulection is ‘the Sound of Tomorrow.’ Hands down the best DJ set of the festival. The international collective is made up of singers, rappers, producers and DJ’s that are changing the way music is made. The crowd for their set was as big of a crowd for any of the other performers. They’re audience was full of dancing queens and turn up kings, including myself. If I’m not mistaken, Lakim was dj’ing while I was there and had such smooth transitions between old school hip hop, new school turn up, old school r&b and funk and more. If you ever just want to listen to a good mix and not touch the dial, listen to Soulection radio and once again, thank me later.
The grammy award winning king of AFROPUNK took the stage for a phenomenal performance. Growing up my mom use to (and still does) swoon over Kravitz, though I’m sure it was more because he’s a man babe and not for his music, the swoon was still in order. He is amazing on guitar and another beautiful face that embodies the true meaning of Afro-Punk. His set carried over and people stayed till the end. His voice electrified the Green stage and actually sent chills down my spine. He knew what he was doing up there and I’m so glad I got to experience his show.
As tired as I was, I had to end the night with a dance session. Kaytranada is the perfect person to take care of my needs. Possibly known for his production on The Internet’s “Girl”, Kaytranada knows his 1’s and 2’s and kept the party going. I danced my life away in VIP feeling like a boss. Such a perfect way to end an amazing weekend with magical people and killer music.
Till then, keep that right fist high.