A new organization wants to give New Yorkers a safe space– and Soundcloud recommendations. Through their “cozy concerts,” intimate shows featuring local artists, The Black Power Punk Girls promote black female artists in music and film genres where black women are underrepresented, or in genres that are indefinable. Originally based in South Florida, the group held its first Brooklyn event at Williamsburg’s New Women Space this month to a packed house.
“It can be a challenge being a black artist and not really relating to mainstream art,” said Sivonyia Beckford, who started the project with best friend and fellow artist Anesia Saunders. Beckford’s own music does not follow a simple formula, ranging from neo-soul, Lion Babe-esque melodies (“11916”) to weighty, sinisterly soulful instrumentals (“Lawless”). “I feel like it’s so important that we have spaces like this so black women don’t feel ostracized just for being themselves. It’s a trend in the entertainment industry and we want to break that mold.”
The Brooklyn cozy concert featured over 10 performers with a variety of styles, such as the production-centered bedroom pop of Philadelphia singer Whomst and the pregame playlist of New York rapper Contraband. Performers played songs released and unreleased. Attendees were also able to wind down over spoken word performances by model and writer Khafeeon Love and by Saunders.
Saunders, who juggles acting, writing and modeling, said it was fulfilling to host “so many different types of artists: people that were rapping, people that have guitars.”
Though firm in its identity as a support system for women trying to enter the music and film industry, the Black Power Punk Girls had a much vaguer mission when it was founded in 2016. Saunders and Beckford created the organization at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola, a town on the “Floribama shore.” The two met after joining the same sorority and formed a special friendship, bonding over their Fort Lauderdale and Jamaican roots.
“Especially going to a school that was predominantly white and almost in Alabama, there was a need to have some sort of safe space,” said Saunders. “The kind of sisterhood that we found as friends, we wanted to share that love and that feeling.”
Saunders and Beckford began by creating the Black Power Punk Girls website in 2016, allowing artists to feature their work on the site. They also used Instagram to share work by black artists like UK-based punk band Nova Twins and Brooklyn-based film producer Octavia Clahar.
They held their first event, called Good Vibe Circle, on January 1, 2017. All were welcome to a serene night of yoga, wine and goal manifesting on Southeast Florida’s Dania Beach.
“People just really liked how bold the whole idea was,” said Beckford. “They really appreciated the fact that we were going out of our way to make people feel safe. People who have never been in the same room together, people who don’t go out often, people who do.”
The duo gained considerable support from other artists in Pensacola and from groups at the University of West Florida. However, they quickly realized that just being a “safe space” wasn’t going to cut it as a goal.
“It was confusing us moving forward, not having a specific mission,” says Saunders. “So we wanted to do something– what is specific and important to us? What kind of space do we not see that we want to see?”
The mission of promoting black women in music and film came from paying attention not just to the extremely white space around them but to their own experiences as black women in the arts and as black women in South Florida.
“In a lot of ways I was always an outsider when it came to wanting to express myself,” says Beckford, a lover of sci-fi films, thrifting and Sevdaliza. “I was always known as the weird one out of my friend group. Just being expressive and abstract with how I dressed at the time.”
“Rock music was something I listened to a lot growing up,” says Saunders. Paramore holds a special place in her heart. “In middle school especially, that was my genre of choice. I just found myself feeling like I was on the outside in a lot of spaces.”
Saunders attended predominantly white schools from childhood. “I think those things inspired it, cause it was like, ‘I can like rock music and I can be a proud black person,’” she says. “It doesn’t take away from who I am.”
Their experiences not only inspired Black Power Punk Girls’ new focus but also inspired them to move to New York– and bring BPPG with them.
“It was hard to be expressive in [Pensacola] because you were kind of in a way shunned or looked at as if you’re doing too much if you’re trying to express yourself,” says Saunders. “I think it especially had us feeling like, you know, this space was kind of limiting for us being in Pensacola.”
The duo held their first two BPPG events out of their apartment in Queens before having their first Brooklyn event at the New Women Space.
“The kind of reception that we got the other day of just people saying that they were appreciative of having this space ‘cause otherwise they wouldn’t have, it was very affirming,” says Saunders. “This is needed.”
Since the event, Saunders and Beckford say they already have musicians reaching out to perform at their next show.
“We never had anything to this extent in Florida,” said Beckford. “We didn’t have the opportunity to find as many black women artists in Florida as we have here.”
As for its future, Black Power Punk Girls says we can definitely expect more events in Brooklyn and throughout the city. They will be hosting Sivonyia’s album release party on June 30th. The location will be on their Instagram. They hope to continue with cozy concerts as well as host film screenings with black women filmmakers. They also want to host events in other cities someday.
“I see Black Power Punk Girls as an all-black-women powerhouse in the future,” says Beckford. “That’s what we’re going for. To really have black women on the ends doing all different artistic ventures and creative things.”