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‘Black Power Punk Girls’ Are Turning Brooklyn Into Their Musical Playground

From left: Sivonyia Beckford and Anesia Saunders. (Photos: Mycah Hazel)

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.

Contraband

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.”    

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The 37th Mermaid Parade Was a Sight to Sea

This past weekend marked the longest day of the year–and also the wildest. Sea creatures of all stripes and scales glittered under the Coney Island sun on Saturday as the 37th annual Mermaid Parade made its way down Surf Avenue, with Arlo and Nora Guthrie serving as King and Queen Neptune. Watch our video to see the seahorses, pirates, and the utterly unclassifiable.

Video by Roberto Bosoms.

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Think Strays Are Cute? ‘The Cat Rescuers’ Will Give You Paws

Latonya “Sassee” Walker (images courtesy of “The Cat Rescuers”)

For four years, New York film directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence followed cat rescuers as these unsung heroes went about the uphill battle of feeding, adopting, trapping and neutering Brooklyn’s exploding population of street cats. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the resulting documentary, The Cat Rescuers, starts its national theatrical run at the IFC Center on July 5. More →

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Massive Street Art Show Immerses You in a Time Before It Was Selfie Bait

Shepard Fairey

A new exhibition in Williamsburg wants people to know that there’s more to street art than “selfie backdrops”– and it’s taking up a block-long, two-story loft to do so. Beyond the Streets is an exhibition on the history of street art, displaying works new, old and never-before-seen, by street artists and the fellow creatives who were inspired by them. Artists range from New York favorites like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy to anonymous and international stars like the Guerilla Girls and Felipe Pantone. More →

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‘Son of an Immigrant’ Packs Up Corner Store That Gave NYC a Taste of Mexico

“Everything I ever had from here was spectacular,” a customer said to Guillaume Guevara, founder and owner of Miscelanea, the East Village corner store that became the go-to place for homesick Mexicans as well as New Yorkers in search of a more contemporary Mexican experience, free of luchador masks and sombreros. But on Tuesday, after a four-year run, it was in its final stretch: closeout sale day.

Guevara, a Mexico City native, thanked the woman as he busily tended to the other customers who, like lost ants, kept streaming into the bodega located on 63 E 4th St. They snatched the remaining $1 and $3 items from the shelves of the 450-square-foot store as they lamented it was closing, all in one beat.

Thirty minutes before locking the doors, Guevara exchanged bills with a customer, took swigs of his Mexican Coke—made with sugar in lieu of corn syrup—and nodded as yet another person expressed their disbelief. “We’ve known for about a month,” he said, probably for the hundredth time. To the inquisitive, he cited the rising costs of rent, payroll, taxes and garbage removal as the main culprits. In recent years, even the price of avocado—which they spread on just about everything—went up.

“But what about you?” the 37-year-old said, flipping the focus back to the customers’ lives. “What do you do?”

He came out from behind the counter to open the near-empty fridge and offer me a refreshment. “It’s on me,” Guevara said, making me choose between glass bottles of luridly-colored Jarritos or a non-alcoholic grape soda called Sangría. My brain jumped back to childhood memories of sipping the fizzy drinks during family vacations in Acapulco or during languid waits at nondescript rural highway stops. I accepted a Sangría.

In strict terms, miscelanea (or miscelánea—with an accent over the á—since we’re speaking in strict terms) translates to miscellaneous. But for anybody raised south of the border, the word is emotionally charged. Misceláneas—delis, corner stores or bodegas—aren’t just the last step of a supply chain, they’re places that are intimately tied to how Mexicans experience food and culture as they go about their daily activities.

In New York City, Miscelanea was the sole purveyor of this market/takeout food experience, Guevara assured. “Even if it’s hard to believe, we were the only miscelánea,” he said, although he agreed he couldn’t be 100 percent sure.

“You can go to Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx and find a store that self-describes as a Mexican corner store. But then you’ll find that the person taking your order is Ecuadorian, the products Venezuelan or Colombian, the food Dominican or Puerto Rican and yes, maybe they sell some authentic chips or Mexican food, but that doesn’t make the place Mexican. Even if it’s hard to believe, a place like that didn’t exist,” he told B+B later over the phone.

Bedford + Bowery, one of many outlets that wrote about the deli’s opening back in 2015, called it “the perfect place to go if you want a bit of Mexico in New York, but can’t handle any more Frida Kahlo meets donkeys meets sombreros meets lone cactus.”

Guevara knew how to make heads turn, offering kids’ sundries side by side with face masks made of Tulum-sourced clay and cookbooks by celebrity Mexican chefs. One time he announced he would give 10 percent of the returns of his hats and beanies brand, Son of an Immigrant, to the ACLU, in support of the nonprofit’s work defending migrants rights. Last year, he started accepting payment in Mexican pesos.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Guevara said. “People always want a reason, they want you to tell them what exactly went wrong. But this isn’t as if I ruined a Rum and Coke drink because I went too hard on the rum. It’s hard to pinpoint what happened.”

In the end, he said, the expenses exceeded the revenue. But he was proud of what Miscelanea accomplished. “There were sales, there were fans, noise, business and all that. I see this as a triumph,” he said. More than 300 reviews on Yelp gave the upmarket grocery a five-star rating.

He also expressed sadness. “For the partners, family, my employees, suppliers, clients; the people who believed in us and who believed in me,” he said on his way to pick up his three-year-old from school. After doing that, he and his wife had a farewell celebration date at Casa Enrique, a Mexican hotspot in Long Island City. “You should go if you haven’t,” he mentioned.

In Miscelanea’s last beating moments, the counter, fridge and wooden shelves displayed a motley assortment of “Mexico is the Shit” jackets, cooking wooden mixers, dried epazote herbs and chillies of the mulato and ancho varieties, traditional Mexican popsicles and other popular sweets, bottled grasshoppers (chapulines), Oaxacan cheese, corn to prepare pozole soup as well as tortilla-ready corn in masa, one lime squeezer, and hats and beanies from Guevara’s Son of an Immigrant brand. A propped-up white book with the serendipitous title Las cosas pasan por algo, o no (Things Happen for a Reason, or Not). A small basket even offered half-a-dozen units of the first aid antibiotic Vitacilina, whose advertising jingleVitacilina… ¡ah qué buena medicina!” was so popular in the country it’s forever engraved in the collective memory of its people.

A woman trailed in and asked about the wooden bench situated at the store’s entrance. On a lucky day, clients would find a spot on the bench to sit and enjoy their tender and juicy meat or scrambled-egg tortas. “Oh, you want it? Take it!” he said, as he wiped it dry from the day’s rain, “I had it custom made.” Guevara sold it for under $20 and helped the woman load it into a van.

The retail entrepreneur has called New York City his home for more than a decade. But now he has plans to fly with his family back to Mexico City, where he hasn’t lived since he was 17. “I went to study in Europe and never returned,” he said, and added, “I want my son to learn Spanish properly.”

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Giblet: Actual Pig in the City

Babe: Pig in the City is showing in Prospect Park next month. But you don’t have to wait that long to see an urban ungulate. There’s a piglet named Giblet roaming the streets of the East Village and beyond.

He seems to enjoy strolls around Tompkins Square Park, getting his head stuck in Cheerios boxes, and crossing the street with elegance and poise. More →

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HBO’s Wigstock Doc Remembers a Time ‘When Drag Was Punk Rock’

Kevin Aviance performing at Wigstock 2018. (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“A lot of people don’t study their history,” bemoans New York drag pioneer Flotilla Debarge in Wig, the new documentary from Chris Moukarbel premiering tonight on HBO. The film charts the birth, ebb, and recent renaissance of the annual Wigstock drag festival, which had its heyday in New York in the 1980s and ’90s. By the time the festival disappeared in 2001—the final official Wigstock took place in early September of that year, just before the landscape and spirit of the city changed irrevocably—its attendees numbered in the thousands. It had become a scene staple. Wig is a colorful love letter to its subject matter, a suggestion that much of our contemporary drag moment remains indebted to the trailblazers of Wigstock. But in 2019, Moukarbel seems to argue, too few of us know about it. More →

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Dancing in Bodega Bags? These Artist-Activists Call It Trashion

Dancers from the Artichoke Dance Company perform at Gowanus Visions. (Photos: Laura Lee Huttenbach)

On the promenade in front of the Gowanus Canal on Saturday, 16 people wearing costumes made of single-use plastic bags performed a dance routine. On the canal, an EPA Superfund site, a mother and her two children paddled around in a red canoe  and lifejackets belonging to the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club.  A storyteller by the name Sweet Aminata recounted her first impressions of the Gowanus Canal when she moved to the neighborhood 27 years ago. “I can recall the smell,” she said. “A thick stench that followed you down the block.” More →

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Delicious Diversity at the Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas Fest

For the 19th year, the Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival brought its namesake treats– and other celebrations of the Lower East Side’s Chinese, Jewish, and Puerto Rican traditions– to the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Watch our video for a look at Sunday’s lion dancing, bomba drumming, and a pretty fierce mahjong match.

Video by Doreen Wang