What Does ‘Afropunk’ Mean? Artists Playing This Weekend’s Festival Weigh In


What began in 2003 with James Spooner’s Afropunk, a documentary highlighting the diversity in what are too casually ascribed as white niches of music, has morphed into a two-day epitomization of its thesis. Cofounder and current Afropunk Fest booker Matthew Morgan recalls the turning point in an L Magazine interview: “After being a manager and taking acts to record labels, and having record labels say, ‘Ah, the black kids aren’t really into that. Can’t really sell that,’ we decided, fuck it. We’ll create our own audience and see if we can move the needle slightly.”

They’ve moved it more than slightly. The festival returns for its 10th year this weekend at Commodore Barry Park, bringing with it, per tradition, a lineup whose collective aesthetic defines “Afropunk” more than the fusion of its root words. This year’s installment stands out as an especially powerful force: among the dozens of artists defying “Afro” and “punk” conventions, there are sequined soul shakers, barely teenage major-label metalheads, melody-jacked rockers, and jazz-laced hip-hoppers, all performing in a skate park.

The term itself, though, remains a jumble of meaning, cross pollinating over musical genres, ideologies, movements — and the titular event that simultaneously symbolizes social nonconformity and justifies “Brooklyn cool” to a million kids in the Midwest. We asked some of the artists playing this weekend to unpack what it means to them.

Shabazz Palaces 5 (2011)

I feel like the punk essence and aesthetic is the courage to observe honestly and act on your observations creatively with a healthy disregard for hypocrisy of authority and the false value of the material.

Ishmael Butler, Shabazz Palaces (performing Saturday at 5:15pm on the Red Stage)

Junior Astronomers

Afropunk is for people who never quite feel like they belong to have something. It’s hard growing up and seeing most of your idols not look like you. To have something like this really gives me faith for future generations. People just need a little help believing they can do or be anything they want.

Terrence Richard, Junior Astronomers (performing Sunday at 2:45pm on the Black Stage)


The definition of ‘Afropunk,’ for me, is a state of mind. It is a movement comprised of the forgotten, the downtrodden, the abused. The queer people. Transgender people. All of the misfits. Enjoying art and realizing we are all together, in the mind, and in Brooklyn. We come together peacefully and leave peacefully because we can feel safe in that forum, and then we return to our homes and bring that spirit of peace and love with us. It’s like The Warriors, when Cyrus calls everyone to unite. Can you dig it?

TaSzlin Muert, BLXPLTN (performing Saturday at 4:15pm on the Red Stage)


I don’t really get ‘afropunk.’ [The term] makes me think of afrobeat — Fela Kuti and Antibalas. But I think it’s great to be supporting this style of music. It’s full of soul, just how I like it.

Sharon Jones, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (performing Saturday at 8:30pm on the Green Stage)


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