Modern Griots Review: Afropunk Fest Pushes Beyond Boundaries…

Gordon Voidwell

When councilwoman Letitia James said that Afropunk was about going beyond boundaries, she was right and this year’s festival did that in several ways. After last year’s cancellation due to stormy weather and my first attendance at Afropunk Fest two years, there have been big changes, some for the good and some for the maybe not so good.

This year’s festival was free for the first time and with that comes more people — a lot more people! The crowds were so overwhelming that I do not think the organizers even expected it. The schedule pamphlets were all gone before the first day was half over and the lines to get in and out were much longer than I remember. It was almost past capacity in the park! To top it all off, the crowds were unbearable to be in a times. Everywhere I turned, smoke — tobacco and weed swirling around my head! I think that was the most I had been around in my entire life! It did not help that the crowds were so packed, especially during the final performances that I felt as if I didn’t have any breathing room or space to move. Some people were rude, sometimes only saying excuse me to push past people to get to the front. I wondered how many of these people were there for the true essence of Afropunk or for a free festival to only enjoy the more popular acts.

Despite these issues that were pushing me past my limits, I enjoyed the rest of the festival. Although, several critics have complained that Afropunk is not the same as it was before, for me it is still worth it to discover new artists that I never heard before. I understand that with all the hype around certain acts and the confusion over what exactly is punk in Afropunk, the festival seems to have gone mainstream. It some ways it has; I mean it has corporate sponsors now. However, Afropunk is still a space for indie acts, especially acts of color, to perform. Also, punk is a genre that has influences from and connections to a number of other genres, including rock ‘n’ roll, reggae and even hip-hop. So, seeing a variety of artists does not surprise me. All I hope is that the festival does not forget the older artists who were attached to it from the beginning.

The Memorials

At least this time the festival was able to expand with more food trucks for the audience, opening up the other side of the park where we could sit down and having two stages for more performances. Speaking of performances, they were beyond my expectations as well. Of course two of my favorite performances were from Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae with guest appearances from Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Pharrell, respectively. Badu’s rendition of The Wiz’s “Believe in Yourself” and Monae’s “Give Me One More Chance” made both my nights. But the other performances were just as impressive, including Gordon Voidwell’s 80s R&B, Prince-like sound; Reggie Watts came up with some comedic, random, on-the-spot songs, Purple Ferdinand looked adorable with her little ukelele; Alice Smith had the crowd swaying with her cover of Cee-lo’s “Fool for You;” The Memorials and Toshi Reagon rocked the crowd and spoke on important social issues; and bands like OxyMorrons, Phony Ppl and Bad Rabbits had the audience grooving. I wish there was two of me so I could be at both the stages in time for all the performances, and my aching feet at the end of the two nights was definitely worth it all.

See some of my other photos on my facebook page.

Read a great review from Bitch Media.

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