For those of you who don’t know what Afropunk is, in just a few words, it’s a two-day alternative music festival that incorporates fashion, art, food, activism and other creative expressions of blackness. It originated in Brooklyn but now has festivals in Paris, London, Atlanta and Johannesburg, South Africa. Afropunk is a huge event that is a convergence of many different interests, but for me, the dress-up aspect is the most exciting part. Just do a Google search for “Afropunk fashion” or “Afropunk street style” to see what I mean. Or better yet, continue reading!
Last year was my first time going to Afropunk, although I had been wanting to go for several years. When I finally made it there, I ended up having so much fun and decided that I would definitely go again next year. This year rolled around and I was able to get my ticket early, thank goodness because the prices go up as it gets closer to the date. This is an issue for some since prior to 2015, the concert was free of charge. But one thing to note, whether you consider it a good or bad thing, once it stopped being free, the acts moved closer and closer to being mainstream. The concert still features alternative acts, but I think one difference is that Black alternative music is becoming more popular, as I mentioned in my post, “Is Alt-R&B a Thing? (What I’m Listening to These Days & a Review of Ravyn Lenae).”
Anyway, I was super excited about this year’s show, which would have, among other acts, a Saint Heron Stage that included performers curated by Solange herself. So I got a group of 6 of my closest friends and family together to go with me. We were going to have a mini girls trip! I even created a What’s App group chat for us to plan. For weeks, the seven of us chatted and laughed about what outfits and hairstyles we would be rocking for the big event. We sent each other Pinterest pictures for inspiration and thought of DIY ideas for accessories and anything else we could think of.
Despite our planning, there were a few hiccups before the big day, including when both my sister and I got sick very close to the date and when my best friend missed out on buying a ticket because they sold out so fast after Solange was announced as the headliner. But everything worked out in the end because, sisterhood.
The day of, while I waited for my friends and family to get to Brooklyn from NJ, I took my time putting together my femme punk inspired outfit and doing my makeup, something I am still learning how to get more creative with. For my makeup, I did my normal routine and added Revlon Photoready Eye Art in Topaz Twinkle, NYX Liquid Suede in Subversive Socialite, and Colourpop Vivid Brights creme eye color in Rebellious Edge. For accessories, I wore fishnet stockings, a faux septum ring, and flower crown to top off my oversized, tye-dye t-shirt and combat boots look. A couple of weeks before, I had Fulani braids with cowrie shells put in my hair to show off my African-diaspora roots. I have to admit, the outfit, which is nowhere near what I would wear every day, made me feel like a goddess!
Soon, my friends and family arrived in Brooklyn and they were super hype to turn up and bask in all the Black and beautiful that would surely be at Afropunk.
But first, we needed to fuel up so we stopped to get brunch at Bogota Latin Bistro, where we ate delicious food and drank different flavored margaritas, including mango and passion fruit. Yum! Most importantly, we took selfies, us-ies, and pictures of the outfits we worked so hard to come up with.
After brunch, we were satisfied and ready to go but when we arrived at Afropunk, we had some logistical difficulties. Some of us had VIP tickets and others didn’t, so finding each other was a bit hectic at first because there were two separate entrances. Because Solange was going to be there this year, the crowd grew large much earlier than it did last year and it was extremely congested in some areas. After we maneuvered around and set a game plan we were able to settle in and see a couple of early acts, including Jorja Smith, Princess Nokia, and Thundercat.
Then we spent some time in one of the beer gardens and looking at some of the vendors. They had everything from clothing, to jewelry, to hair products and accessories. Unfortunately, because some of the bigger acts were going to perform soon, we weren’t able to make it to Activism Row, which is an interactive, educational, site-specific installation featuring grassroots and non-profit organizations that solve urgent community problems. That’s definitely a must see for me next year.
While we were making our way to the VIP area of the stage where Solange would be later on, I heard the MC announce that one of my absolute favorite poets, Staceyann Chin, was about to perform. I didn’t even know she was going to be there! So we stopped and watched her perform a powerful poem about Donald Trump NOT being her president. As you can imagine, we could all relate and the crowd exploded in agreement. When we made it to VIP, I had another surprise. There was Staceyann Chin, right there in front of me. So, of course, I had to get a picture with her. Oh and check out her shirt; love it!
In VIP, we got some drinks and chilled out between acts. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed people watching together. Looking at all the different outfits was not only so fun but also inspiring. We realized that we don’t have to go all out only for events like this. It’s OK and even necessary to throw a little creative expression into our everyday lives, especially in these times when things are so seriously depressing. Sometimes you have to create your own joy.
And guess who else we saw getting some body paint?
After people watching, some more performances began. The two performers I loved the most were Sampha and Solange. Sampha’s vibe and his voice are just as mellow in person as on his recordings. I was so excited that he sang all my favorite songs so I could sing along to them. Later on, after nightfall, when Solange came on the stage, the crowd had grown even bigger. Luckily, we had our spots on the risers in VIP ready for her show to begin. Of course, she sang songs from “A Seat at the Table,” including my and everybody’s favorite, “Cranes in the Sky.” She almost had me in tears. Then she surprised us and sang some songs from her previous albums like, “Tony” and “Losing You.” She even threw in some choreography and got on the ground and twerked! My favorite parts of the performance though, were when she sang, “Don’t Touch My Hair” and Sampha came out and sang with her and when she sang, “FUBU” and was accompanied by several people playing trumpets and other horns. It reminded me why I had to make it to New Orleans someday soon. Solange gave us an amazing show and I was so elated to be there with all of my favorite girls as we sang along together and basked in all the Black Girl Magic.
Overall, we had a blast at Afropunk. Combining my experiences from last year and this year, I have come up with a few tips for first-time goers. Timing is everything. Only buy General Admission tickets if you are OK with going pretty early and you don’t have an issue with crowds. Even if you have VIP tickets, aim to be at the festival around 2 pm so that you can enjoy the vendors and earlier acts without the crowds taking over. Also, know that with VIP you still have to make your way to the other stages’ VIP areas if you want to see different acts. This is why going early is so important. If getting there early doesn’t work out for you, just be brave enough to forge through the masses of people to get to see the artist you want to see. For example, sadly we didn’t get to see SZA (one of my faves) because we were not about that crowd life lol. But I spoke to other people who pushed through the crowds to make it to the stage she was performing at and they said once they got there, they had a good view and it was totally worth it. So it’s really up to you and the strategy you and your group come up with.
I asked my girls what their favorite part of Afropunk was and here are some of the things they said:
- “My favorite thing was seeing all the freedom to be yourself and the majesty that is blackness. It was a beautiful experience.” – La’Shonda
- “It was a special experience to attend a festival primarily of POC that featured freedom of expression, fun and chill musical vibes.” – Tamie
- “My favorite part was sharing this beautiful experience with my sisters!” – Tasia
- “Melanin popping, afros rocking! What a time to be Black ✊?” – Shavon
For me, Afropunk represents so much of what I am passionate about. Between the fashion and the social awareness, there’s just an undeniable feeling that you belong, even while in the midst of all the hundreds of people. Once you cross that threshold it’s like the outside world, where we are rarely ever welcomed, is miles and miles away. While in that safe space, there’s no room to stress about injustices and how we will ever overcome them. The only thing to do is sway to the music, admire all the beautiful melanin surrounding you, and like me, be grateful for the wonderful people you were able to share the experience with. I can’t wait until next year!
Leave your favorite Afropunk moments, tips, or hopes for future trips to Afropunk in the comments below!