It’s hard to fit AfroPunk into a box, which is kind of the point. The annual two-day music festival at Barry Commodore Park in Brooklyn is simply a concert, to some. For many others, though, “AfroPunk” is a noun, verb and adjective that describes the broader community and ethos this festival has come to represent over time. We caught up with a few of the thousands in attendance and asked them what exactly “AfroPunk” means to them.
“It’s about finding the jams between races and breaking it all down,” said Jason Turner, an authoritatively afro’d attendee. Thought of quite literally, Turner’s words are reflected in this year’s genre-defying line-up spanning the onslaught of Death Grips to the inimitable Grace Jones. “It’s about ‘AfroPunking’ the preconceived ideas about what should constitute [the festival’s] own culture – challenging and welcoming anybody and all. Minority situations often end up being limiting – ‘this is me, this is my group.’ But, from what I’ve experienced of AfroPunk, it’s about the unity.”
“Afropunk means freedom of expression, creativity, music and humanity. It’s people coming together in love, music and peace to celebrate life,” said Della Rae, practicing what she preached by sporting the fiercest of gold earrings. When complemented on her Grace Jones-worthy attire, Della Rae demurely admitted, “I was in her ‘I’m Not Perfect’ video many years back, actually.”
“I feel like it’s something for black culture to say, ‘We belong too, but everybody can be included,’” said Niara Wright, editor of a culture blog called Nyota, contrasting the more traditionally marginalized conception of punk, with this festival’s more inclusionary atmosphere. “People think [AfroPunk is] just for black people, but you see people here with backgrounds and orientations from all over. It’s just us all being a family.”
Performance artists Aziziumi, Billy Black and Jypsy Jeyfree wear their opinion on their sleeves (and hats, heads and faces for that matter.) “It means being edgy, different and original,” said Black, thrusting into our hands several fliers with links to his group’s various artistic pursuits.
Who better than one-piece-suited Demonte to deliver the answer “vibes” in response to what defines his AfroPunk experience. “It’s a lot of people coming from all over and just vibing to good music, good food, good times – that’s why I come every year.”
“One word,” said Marsha. “Inclusion.”
Roberto and Barbara flew into town recently from Italy. Needless to say, the experience was new to them. “It’s a lot of things for us — we don’t have anything like this at home. It’s a great energy.”
Normal and Free (figuratively speaking)
“It’s cool,” said Ashleigh, reserving her full enthusiasm for post-shift at the bar. “To me, this is New York. It doesn’t feel specifically like anything different, it’s just very Brooklyn or Harlem. This is every day for me.”
“I went to the first Afropunk when it was still free,” chimed in Brenda, standing alongside Ashleigh, who together scored free passes to this year’s event by volunteering to pour drafts. “It means accepting all cultures and backgrounds, where all kinds of music and people can fuse together under one love for AfroPunk.”