About This Festival
Building a Movement
The AFROPUNK Festival started as an underground urban indie-rock/punk/hardcore scene, inspired a documentary, became an online community, grew into a live-performance series, and is now an international event chronicling what it calls “the other black experience.”
Held annually since 2005, the festival spreads four stages across 10 acres in Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park. They’re rocked by legends and up-and-comers such as Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo, Gary Clark Jr., Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Suicidal Tendencies, Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, Questlove, Bad Brains, Body Count, Tyler, the Creator, Danny Brown, Kelis, Death Grips, Vintage Trouble, Sam Dew, Kele and SZA. Interactive and installation art and murals take form on-site; the 2015 festival also featured the first AFROPUNK Fancy-Dress Ball, a fundraiser for the AFROPUNK Global Initiative, which promotes diversity in media and the arts and encourages volunteer service.
A merger of artists, activists, attitudes … AFROPUNK is a celebration of black culture that embraces every ethnicity, the two-day festival melds music, film, visual art, storytelling and other forms of expression into a multi-cultural extravaganza that revels in diversity. A sweatshirt for sale on the AFROPUNK website emphasizes the ultimate point — acceptance — in stencil-type capital letters. They spell out:
Ultimately, it’s more about how colorful you are than what color you are. Creativity is the focus — whether it emanates from the stage or the audience. Festival fashion — dubbed haute street fashion by the New York Times — seems to be its own attraction; Elle magazine photographers love capturing examples of festival-goers displaying “some of the best, most original, fashion eye candy.” Other attractions include Activism Row, where various minority-oriented causes are represented; the collection of food trucks dubbed Bites & Beats; the SpinThrift market of handmade crafts and wares; a bookstore; a record shop; and AFROPUNK After Dark, the nighttime film screenings, story slams, pop-up shows, comedy routines, DJ sets and other offerings that keep the party hopping.
With his 2003 film Afro-punk, writer/director James Spooner set out to chronicle the once-outsider underground scene inhabited by non-white hardcore and punk players, skateboarders and other adherents to its DIY ethos. He figured his film would get a few screenings and that would be it. Instead, it blew up. When he was planning its 100th screening, he reached out to a Philly-based punk band, Stiffed, fronted by Santi White (now known as Santigold). She introduced him to her manager, Matthew Morgan. Spooner and Morgan began holding Liberation Sessions — screenings followed by bands and DJs. The community that found itself via these events and the online message boards demanded more, and in 2005, Spooner and Morgan arranged the inaugural festival, held at Brooklyn’s Academy of Music. The two parted ways in 2008, and since then, Morgan has overseen the festival with his partner, Jocelyn Cooper.
Though the festival has gone more mainstream, with bigger acts, sponsorship and for the first time in 2015, admission fees (including VIP offerings), the festival and community continue to grow. In 2015, New York’s attendance was 30,000 each day. (A New Yorker magazine story described festival-goers as “a swaying sea of Afros, dreadlocks and flower crowns.”) That year, the festival also expanded to Paris and Atlanta (though a hurricane forced last-minute cancellation of the latter); planners are working on staging AFROPUNK festivals in other U.S. and international cities.
A Strong Community
A robust web magazine with constant updates from editors and contributors helps drive the festival engine year-round — these ingredients keep the community up to date on social, cultural, political and other diversity-related issues ranging far beyond AFROPUNK’s musical core. Thought-provoking and entertaining features have introduced readers to the work of queer comic-book illustrator Mooncalfe (Sophie Campbell), Portuguese graffiti artist and 3D muralist Odeith, and diversity strategist and Sistah Vegan Project founder Dr. Amie Breeze Harper — to name just a few of many fascinating posts. Also look for terrific nuggets such as a look at legendary singer-guitarist Barbara Lynn’s career, Erykah Badu showing off her natural gray tresses and AFROPUNK Mixtape #013: Year in Black (the 22-track Soundcloud stream crosses a spectrum from Alabama Shakes and Kendrick Lamar to Death Grips, Young Paris, Project Black Pantera and a 1968 clip of Black Panthers secretary Kathleen Cleaver).
The AFROPUNK Global Initiative has an even broader mission, specifically: “Moving the needle of progress closer to a holistic, democratic and enlightened representation of people of color within all facets of society.”
In a 2014 New York Times article, Cooper elaborated, “If you were to define AFROPUNK in one word, it’s ‘freedom.’ People of color don’t necessarily feel that in their day-to-day lives. AFROPUNK is a space that creates that, whether it’s online or at the festival.”