A lot has changed with the Afropunk music festival… But just like in Brooklyn and just like in life, things change.
A lot has changed for me with the Afropunk music festival, the biggest being that the majority of my peers– many of them, longtime Afropunk enthusiasts– this year, opted out. Why?
It’s no secret that Afropunk is one of the most successful, ground-sweeping movements in modern Black American history! And this past weekend’s festival in Brooklyn did nothing less than further solidify its gold-star standing. Afropunk has become the premier destination for African-centered creative artistic expression, free of judgment; the one place where black people from across the country can gather to catch their favorite bands, exercise activism, take endless selfies, while expressing their melanated personal style!
The celebrity spottings are endless, and the performance lineup never disappoints. From Erykah Badu to Grace Jones, SZA to Janelle Monae, Lenny Kravitz, the Internet, Daniel Ceasar, Kaytranada, Denzel Curry, Miguel, Ibeyi, Solange, over the years, the number of A-list alternative headliners goes on and on and on… For $100 over an entire weekend, Afropunkers are presented a menu of some of the most coveted, sought-after acts, along with the hottest up-and-coming artists, all in one venue– many of whom would have charged $100 to see them on a singular stage. It’s like an all-you-can eat buffet of stellar musicians. The Black Coachella of music festivals!
In just 13 short years, Afropunk’s appeal has gone global, moving beyond Brooklyn to debut festivals in Atlanta, London, Paris and South Africa! So, how could anyone possibly take umbrage with the one Brooklyn-born festival started of meager means that today is winning worldwide?
Well, *looking both ways and leaning in to whisper* I think I may be losing my taste for Afropunk too (gasp!) Yes, I said it: Afropunk and I are on the rocks. I saw the signs beginning two years ago…
You see, I’ve been attending Afropunk since its inception in the early 2000s, when it occupied a singular stage in the Fort Greene parking lot that now hosts a Whole Foods and a luxury high rise. The excitement the music performances gave me back then is hard to describe. In the form of a block party, it was as though these black music artists– dressed in a random combo of headwraps, leather, chains, colored feathers and multiple piercings– from one tiny stage played their hearts out, an alternative sound that gave us the license to break the mold and then rebuild it any way we so pleased!
But that was 13 years ago, and oh, how things have changed! It’s like that point in a relationship where you develop a comfortable routine and a happy understanding. And then one day, you look up, and the partner that once made you feel young, light-hearted and free now looks only vaguely familiar while the one thing that binds you is the memory of what you both used to be.
Dear, Afropunk, you’ve changed. Or maybe I’ve changed. Or maybe the world has changed! The truth is, we’re on two different pages now. I applaud your growth. I adore the fact you still wear that African medallion around your neck. But my tolerance has dwindled for your large and oppressive crowds, CPT performances and people passing out left and right due to dangerous overbooking. And while I’m more into the music and caliber of the experience (I’d sooner pay the $100 for one act, a comfortable place to sit without being trampled and a glass of wine), it’s clear your focus is on ticket sales…
I witnessed, as always, some of the flyest displays of African-inspired beauty and creative couture. I saw people jumping rope, painting, smiling the most beautiful smiles and cozying up for pictures with their favorite TV stars. I also witnessed a bevy of pastied titties, hairy bare butts, and balls grazing the bottom of mini skirts (I’m sorry, did I once think this was cool? I don’t remember)… Yes, I know, it’s part of the same freedom of expression I once cheered. But today, it feels less about the music and the musicians and more about the selfie moment and saying you were there …
Photos: J Boogie Photography for BK Reader
So, Afropunk, it might be time for us to part ways.
My 19- and 21-year-old nieces attended Afropunk with me for the first time this year. I left after two hours. They stayed for six (bye, auntie!) and had the time of their lives! So despite whatever I may be feeling about the direction of the movement personally, there’s no denying the impact the festival continues to provide for hundreds of thousands of young fans worldwide as a place to celebrate and reaffirm their blackness, hear their favorite musicians, take infinite selfies and be artistically free.
As long as it gives voice to black and brown creative expression and social agitation; as long as it remains a safe space for the eccentric, the queer and the quirky in us all; and as long as it manages to make so many people happy… I can’t be mad.
Dear Afropunk, although we may drift apart, I will always remember how you once made me feel– the very same way so many others feel now: Excited. Beautiful. Supported. Proud. Every generation deserves to feel that, in whatever form they deem fitting.
And for that, all I can really say is, “Thank You.”