I struggled with how to begin or even how to document my feelings towards attending AFROPUNK because it was truly such a unique experience that connected with me deeply given the immense struggles the black community have faced.
I was shocked to search and see that Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012 and till this day, senseless killings are still happening leaving the black community consumed with sadness and unable to figure out why lives have to be turned into hashtags in order to bring attention as to why black lives matter.
After seeing numerous news stories, hashtags and actual videos of police brutality that have literally knocked the wind out of me, to be honest I can’t emotionally bear to see anymore. Describing how it feels to see the loss of beautiful black mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, cousins, and friends is downright painful and hard to express. In turn, I have become even more aware of what being a black male in today’s world means.
If I’m completely honest most times when in settings outside of my home, I am consciously aware of the colour of my skin. Consciously thinking about how you come across or being wary of how you may be treated given the barriers of institutional, covert and overt racism can be exhausting and a dangerous breeding ground for mistrust & misunderstanding. Growing up and becoming more aware that people may express a dislike or hatred towards me because of the colour of my skin was tough to understand, to say the least.
In the past this dislike, hatred or even indifference has resulted in many race targeted killings and when you realise the pattern of history and how events are often cyclical.It shouldn’t be surprising that racial injustice and police brutality towards black people has reared its head again but it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.
In the depth of such darkness and despair the fact that we have music that we can listen to that chronicles our experience as black people, emphasises the power of our voices, validates our beliefs and details our fears and insecurities in songs, is something I really appreciate. Initially, the thought of even writing this post was a bit much for me emotionally and I turned to the very songs that speak about these issues and it resulted in me spontaneously creating a playlist of a collection of songs that I played whilst finishing this blog post.
I strongly believe that music has the power to heal and attending AFROPUNK was such a healing experience. AFROPUNK’s roots began as a cultural movement celebrating alternative urban kids who didn’t feel they fitted into the stereotypical boxes society creates and thus allowed them to form a supportive, bold and beautiful community.
Taking their movement online and through social media has allowed their multicultural imprint to reach so many black people who were once afraid to celebrate what makes them special and learn to appreciate their beauty. AFROPUNK first held their festival in 2005, celebrating afro-centric art, fashion and music in Brooklyn, New York and have since brought their fast-growing cultural event abroad to Paris and most recently to London in Alexandra Palace.
I got the chance to attend after spending a few hours volunteering with Rockcorps , helping to clean the space of a community hub called Everyone’s Climbing Tree that provides creative learning opportunities by engaging young people through youth mentoring, teaching them African drumming and music production skills which give them a chance to grow and develop.
Rockcorps allows you to volunteer for a few hours and receive a concert ticket in return. Ironically, this is how I saw my first ever concert so I was glad to be returning to give back since my gig addiction has now intensified.
I have never been to an event quite like AFROPUNK that celebrated everything about being black, the atmosphere was completely all about good vibes and being supportive of one another.
Festival goers fashionably dressed in the most beautiful clothes proudly celebrating black culture and heritage and were stopped constantly for photos.
Especially in a world where the euro-centric look is seen as the pinacle standard of beauty, with psychological research finding that common stereotypes of black woman are aggressive and overbearing and black males as young as 5 prompt negative biases such as being violent and hostile. It was a great sight to witness black men and women being celebrated for their different examples of beauty.
“It’s such beauty in Black people, and it really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being Black, and that if you do, then it’s considered anti-white. No! You just pro-black. And that’s okay.” Tina Knowles
Also, there were a range of stalls that people educated about black history and sold a diverse array of beautiful fabrics and products that made me feel as if I was transported to a different space and time.
It was truly heart-warming to see such an unapologetically unique display of what it means to be black and to have this recognised was amazing to witness.
What I also loved to see was that the festival goers were not solely black people; there were people from a range of ethnic backgrounds at AFROPUNK. Everyone wanted to just let go and dance to music and sounds that freed them from the troubles of life.
This goes to show that this movement has a strong connection because it is about uniting people in the face of division, through music of all genres that speak not to just one person but to anyone who is willing to listen and open their heart to change.
AFROPUNK showcased musical artists from different ethnic backgrounds and gave an inspirational platform for black artists from Punk, Jazz, Blues, R&B, Pop, Hip-Hop, Dance, Grime, Rock and Soul to fill the sounds of the massive Alexandra Palace.
Some of my highlights included the great singer, songwriter and producer MNEK who sent energy surging through the crowd. As he is an openly gay black musician, it is great that MNEK is able to showcase his talents and have them be appreciated.
It was good to see Youth Man rocking out on stage and I quite enjoyed how sick their performance was. I don’t usually listen to punk music and hadn’t heard their music before but their set really sold it to me, it was high-octane fun!
A surprise performance came from Benjamin Booker who I can best describe as a blend of blues, soul and rock. One of my favourite instruments to listen to is the guitar and he played it with so much passion it really made me appreciate that if it wasn’t for AFROPUNK I wouldn’t be exposed to such different sounds than what I would normally listen to.
Additionally, it was R&B sensation SZA’s first time performing in the U.K. and boy she didn’t disappoint as her dynamic movement on stage whilst pulling off effortless vocals was captivating and to put it simply a powerful display of #BlackGirlMagic.
KWABS who is definitely one of my favourite black male singers at the moment filled Alexandra Palace with his smooth soulful voice and held nothing back and left me all in my feelings.
The festival also featured DJ sets by Soulection DJ’s which had the crowd turning all the way up.
It was so good to see everyone smiling and getting hyped to music that made you just want to get down. Honestly no better feeling.
I couldn’t wait to see the magnificently talented Laura Mvula perform after falling in love with her latest album ‘The Dreaming Room’ it really seems as if she has come into her own, recognised her beauty even more and the importance of spreading a bold message of self-love.
She was visibly overcome with emotion at one point when she described the crowd as being the most beautiful she’s ever performed to and it was such a spine-tingling moment as you felt everyone realise that “Damn i’m the bomb and there ain’t nobody that can tell me any different.”
The performance of the night went to the perfect headliner, the iconic musical legend Grace Jones who really gave it her all on the stage. I was so surprised at the high level of her showmanship and her voice was soul achingly good. The audience cheered supportively as Grace delivered a visually entertaining performance coming out in so many outfit changes that took her seconds to whip on and gave us pure diva in the best way, leaving us in awe.
Grace demanded we put our phones away and live in the moment and this was the best advice because this was definitely not something you get the chance to see everyday. A special moment came when was when she must have hula-hooped on stage for close to ten minutes, whilst singing and walking around. Afer seeing Grace Jones the bar for all subsequent live performances I see in the future has been raised. Man we can all learn from her to be fiercely original, divinely confident and wholly proud of your worth.
Overall, I think an outdoor vibe would have worked better for the festival. However, I really did appreciate that you could walk not too far from one stage and be moved by a soulful croon then dance away to a DJ spinning tunes and turn to another stage and start headbanging to exhilarating punk jams, all in one building.
This resulted in moves
and you guessed it…mooooves
AFROPUNK was an event I needed to assure me that black culture, our stories, our history and our people can still remain united in the face of injustice. It was a welcome reminder that music is a language that can be spoken and understood in many different ways and can harmoniously be enjoyed despite its differences.
This is a sentiment that can be related to how people of different races across the world should be able to be in one space and exist peacefully but right now we are not there yet. I don’t know if we ever will be but what I do know is that as long as events like AFROPUNK continue to exist it sends out a strong message that blackness will no longer be diluted, ignored or marginalised.