Afropunk Review Part 1: A Week-Long Celebration of Diversity and Black Creativity

Since 2005, Afropunk has been an annual music festival that celebrates black culture and freedom of expression. Starting out in Brooklyn and later expanding to Atlanta, Paris and Johannesburg, this is the third year that the festivities have touched down in London.

Rather than the usual two-day festival, this year saw Brixton’s well-known venues taken over from 1st – 8th September for a display of art, fashion, music, education and more.

“No sexism, no racism, no ableism, no ageism, no homophobia, no fatphobia, no transphobia, no hatefulness” is the gospel that resonates through Afropunk and the message was proudly displayed as the backdrop across all events.

Friday saw a crowd of around one hundred descend into the illuminated basement of The Department Store for the talk “Art and Commerce: Black to the Future”. Presenter Samuel Eni hosted the conversation between Lakwena Maciver (visual artist), Kwame Kwei-Armah (art director at the Young Vic) and Jenn Nkiru (director). The conversation covered their experiences developing their careers as creatives, and the pressures that can be faced in the African Caribbean household to study Law and Medicine. Kwei-Armah highlighted how attitudes are changing with respect to creative roles, perhaps in recognition of their inability to be performed by technology. The discussion drew laughter and moments of reflective silence, and Maciver assured the audience that as a creative, “it gets really difficult before it gets really good”.

Later that night, crowds moved to the grand converted cinema, Electric Brixton, for a club night with DJ sets from garage legend DJ Spoony, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, BBZ collective, Recess and Born N Bread. The night offered up the sounds of hip hop, house, afrobeats and more until the early hours.

A talk about “Redefining Masculinity” on Saturday gathered a smaller but very engaged audience. The discussion ranged from the link between masculinity with mental health, how we can break down stereotypes to the effectiveness of mentorship. In the spirit of an open and tolerant environment, people were able to share their views on how Notting Hill Carnival has changed, and at points of divide, the host Jasmine Dotiwala importantly highlighted that Afropunk is a safe place for a range of opinions.

The O2 Academy Brixton held the final event of the week with a multi-award winning line-up.  Bakar, whose album “Badkid” was released 22nd May, kept close to the original punk roots of the festival. The poet and scholar Akala followed this and captured the attention of the crowd with visual display and powerful lyrics projected behind. The show was headlined by August Greene, the jazz-infused hip hop supergroup from the US comprised of talented producers Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins, and legendary Chicago MC, Common. The group collaborated with classically-trained Laura Mvula who commanded the stage with a soulful performance.

Afropunk did not shy away from being a magnificent embrace of multiculturalism. It creates a community for those with a shared mind-set, and a voice for those who feel unheard. There’s no doubt it will continue to blossom and break down the barriers that confine individuality in London and afar.

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