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To start, I went to Afropunk in 2016- or as I call it, “The Great Disaster of Lauryn Hill.” As I recounted a multitude of times during conversation, I sat on a fence with a pole up my seat waiting for an unceremoniously late Ms. Hill who, when she finally came on, was inaudible over the large oversold crowd. For the next two years I told people, “it’s a great time, but Commodore Barry Park is too small for such a large audience.”
Two years later, and I am older and wiser (better shoes), as is Afropunk. Afropunk is a multi-city event in London, Paris, Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Johannesburg. In its 13th year, the afro: “born of African spirit and heritage” punk: “rebel, opposing the simple route” festival is no longer free, but they have nailed down some of the kinks for a smoother experience. Before we get to the music, one of the first things I noted was the updated set up. The Afropunk team put the vendors and clothing at the far end of the park, leaving the middle area open for better flow through. Great job!
Something else that significantly upgraded was the outfits. I saw so much black excellence my eyes were constantly scanning waiting to appreciate the next fashion moment. There were a lot of nods to this year’s MET ball, Heavenly Bodies, with hairpieces and halos atop each crown. *Note: the MET was also in attendance with a DIY adornment station. Many of the men opted for an updated take on traditional Ankara prints. The spirit among the crowd was jovial, inclusive (I am white), proud, and last but not least, chill.
While the crowds came out in full force, as they do- I have a small tip I want to share with you being that I am a frequent festival goer. Don’t be afraid to split up! You get to see who you want, shimmy your way to the front of the show and make new friends. You see your friends all the time. Trust me they are fine.
On Saturday, my first show was at the main stage during H.E.R. The young singer came on late due to some timing and technical issues but wowed everyone with her strong smokey voice and guitar skills. The thing I love about the new women performers these days are the lyrics. I wish I had a strong empowerment song to listen to when I was 18 to show me what I deserve and how to be treated! She finished her set with a duet with Daniel Caesar, and as I am a noob, I had turned to my new friend and asked, “are they together?”
Next, I saw Miguel. Through word of mouth, I was ready for an exciting show and he did not disappoint. The new songs sound like throwbacks, the throwbacks are reimagined, and he had an outfit switch, headbanged, and danced with the crowd. I rewatched a video I took during his performance and the crowd is literally screaming. I was 5th row for his performance (solo, hello!) and when he asked the crowd to see some titties I was jumping trying to get one little tit in his eye view. I was really sad that he had a short set.
Kaytranada came on at 10PM, an hour late, (keep in mind the stage crew has to change over the set between each act!) and I was afraid that he was only going to get 30 minutes to play. Thankfully, he lasted well past 11PM. Kaytranada is a DJ who was celebrating his 26th birthday at Afropunk. That’s pretty epic. He made a special mixtape and kept the party going. Seasoned vet tip 2- when the late night comes on, that’s when you move back. The crowd spreads out and you get to break free and dance. I shook it, shook it and it felt so great!
I felt so great that when I left the set I didn’t mind when a man came out of… NOWHERE, and hugged me. I was being nice and hugged him back until he grabbed my ass and said something to the effect of, “Oh and it’s real too, oh she a baddie.” Long story – 30 minutes later I pried myself away. It’s so weird trying to be nice and not being able to gauge what’s going on in a situation. To what degree is everyone having fun vs. now I’m just being polite, mister. I GOTTA GO. Was I using him for his nutcrackers (a mixed drink brought in from the outside that people sell)? Maybe. That’s for another story- just being honest.
Okay, day 2. I started at Jacob Banks for some summery soul. It was earlier in the day (5PM) and everyone was still filling in- appreciating the glory of another blessed day. Call me cheesy but this is how Jacob makes you feel! This is music you want to learn the words to and sing to during road trips. The best comparison I can make is Ray LaMontague except, more electronic and less alcoholic.
I headed to the indie stage to meet friends (yes, I have them!) and we watched who I think was Nahkane. He wore a full red suit was giving me really cool Bowie vibes.
Time to go to the rapper’s stage and listen to Pusha-T! Virginia represents. Pusha-T was a lot of fun. This is the first rapper I saw during the weekend. He has a new album out that he says is the best album of the year and damn if I didn’t start to believe it! I got hyped when the crowd got hyped. Pusha-T was hyped.
We went back to the main stage for Janelle Monáe. I’m not a huge fan of her music. It’s overproduced and too pop for me. When she came out it just didn’t sound like she was singing from her gut and there was so many theatrics happening that it kinda all got lost into a red and orange stage set. I’m not here to make or break anyone’s careers. SO… our crew moved back to the rapper’s stage to see Tyler, the Creator.
Tyler is a nutball! HE. IS. BALLING. OUT. AND. HE. WANTS. YOU. TO. SEE. HIM. There was a heat wave in Brooklyn and Tyler is jumping off platforms and running all over the place. All the while he is singing about being bored, calling 911, hating himself, his girl, and everyone else and we are with him, singing along. It’s super relatable given the malaise of our generation. There are two ways to be a nihilist. One is to despair, and the other way is to have a shit ton of fun. He chose the latter and ushered us to go see Erykah Badu.
This is the moment we’ve all be waiting for, right? Erykah Badu is the festival headliner. The house is packed. There’s a freaking full moon over the stage. There are some corny stage hosts and HBO plugs (ok to the HBO plugs, meh to the stage hosts) and then and some chanting of “BADU!” Erykah comes on. She had a fringe lampshade hat on during the first song but her voice is crisp and beautiful and the magic is on, I don’t care if she keeps that hat on anyway. She did unveil for the rest of her set. Erykah is a special singer and performer with a beautiful voice. It was a simple stage but very moving with geometric and scientific images and colors and beauty. She talks to the audience and guides them through her set. She lets us know when to light up when to dance when to let go. She even went into the audience! And, never to disappoint, she ended the night with Bag Lady. Thank you, Erykah.
Festivals are great because you get to see so many genres at once. And if there is a community that embodies resilience, talent, and excellence to me it is the black, brown, Latino community. I feel so fortunate to have attended and shared in a truly special weekend. Viva la musica de Afropunk!