Ode to Afropunk
For the past two years my friends and I have packed it all up and made the pilgrimage to Brooklyn for the Afropunk festival. We didn't make it this year, but we put together a list of what we think makes Afropunk so great! Special Thanks to GIA Detroit and Debra Diane for their help on this!
Afropunk is a place where lovers of music, fashion, culture and blackness collide. While many (including myself) stress for days over what to wear or how to jazz their hair up just right- Afropunk is more than a runway with live acts. Afropunk is a celebration of culture. A celebration of a people who are often imitated but seldom appreciated.
One thing that I experienced firsthand was the love of the people. After being in a near fatal car accident last March, I was in no condition to stand in a crowd of people for hours on end. I was hesitant at first, but I decided that a wheelchair would be the most accessible way for me to enjoy Afropunk.
I was self conscious at first. Being that at times I associate with the "strong black woman"complex I felt weird being pushed around, but when I tell you that there was so much love and acceptance there? At check-in we were given VIP access, which made viewing some of my favorite artists a very pleasant experience. I never felt like the invisible girl in the wheelchair. In fact, by the end of the weekend I felt like a celebrity!
We even met SZA!
My wheelchair and I made it through the crowds but lemme tell you- Commodore Barry park is P A C K E D Afropunk weekend! This festival is usually sold out. There’s not as much space to dance and be free when you get to the front. Personal space is hella different and somewhat nonexistent depending on where you end up, but if you are anything like me and my crew, finding a spot to lay out you blanket and vibe out to the music will work just fine!
Each year, Afropunk features tons of afro-indie artists that haven’t gotten mainstream notoriety. Artists like Kelela, NAO, Black Coffee, KING, Lil Simz, Mahalia, KAYTRANADA, that are on the cusp of greatness frequently grace Afropunk's stages. As soon as the lineup comes out, someone from my crew makes an Afropunk playlist which we would use to discover new artists and map out the shows we wanted to see at the festival.
In terms of lodging- Airbnb is your best bet. BUT YOU HAVE TO START LOOKING EARLY! People come from all over the world to attend this festival and as I mentioned above, it is typically sold out! Our first year we waited too long and ended up driving from Wall Street to Brooklyn each day- but the second year we lucked out with an Airbnb 5 minutes from the park which had a beautiful rooftop view!
Don't forget you are in the middle of Brooklyn, home to so many cultural icons, great food, black owned business, and just genuinely dope people. Each day before the festival began we would make sure to stop at a restaurant for brunch and no matter whether we opted for vegan brunch or just a spot with bottomless mimosas, we were never disappointed!
**Oh and don't ask about that one time we stayed in Times Square til 7am and woke up a few hours later, went to brunch and did it all over again haha**,
It is also important to note that there are tons of shops and interactive displays to visit while the shows are still going on. If you want to take part in these you HAVE TO PLAN TO GO TO THEM! I almost never made it to check out any of the vendor tables and I ended up regretting it every year. Don't be like me! Explore all that Afropunk has to offer! ESPECIALLY THE FREEBIES!
Every year there are whispers of gentrification in the camp. This typically comes from disgruntled festival goers whose once positive experiences were thwarted due to the perceived commercialization of the event. This year was no different, as one attendee reported having been removed from the VIP backstage area festival for wearing a shirt that said, "Afropunk sold out for white consumption". This in turn has created a social media frenzy which at the core begs the question, "Is Afropunk a safe space"?
My take on that is that there are no permanent "safe spaces" anymore. Nothing is promised or set in stone for anyone. In the blink of an eye, what you once knew to be a place of security and shelter can become a desolate wasteland. I think that if our intent is to "protect" these "safe spaces" we all have to get a little more comfortable with confronting instances of privilege and disrespect- both at Afropunk and back in our respective homes.
It is my sincere hope that Afropunk can continue to be a place where ALL people from the African diaspora can feel free to express their blackness regardless of their gender, sexuality, religion, style or music choice. I want this alternate universe not only to survive, but to thrive. In this universe black beauty and bodies are celebrated and appreciated instead of being policed, white is not right just because, ALL shades of melanin and hair textures are loved and accepted, creativity and free-thinking is encouraged and the support and love is there for those who need it.
That is the magic of Afropunk. Not the contest to see who can be the most extra- but the peace and joy that comes from celebrating the MANY things that make us as a people- black and beautiful.