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AfroPunk Festival: Its History, Its Significance, & Why It’s Not Free This Year

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I’m collecting myself in the mosh pit while my throbbing bump reminds me of the kick to the face I sustained 15 seconds ago; my fellow mosh heads continue to convulse and gyrate as Unlocking The Truth hammer out the crunchy chords of the last song in their set. And as suddenly as it started, it’s over; I dust off my body and head across Commodore Barry Park to see The Internet, remnants of the pit lingering on my clothes.

Since its inception back in 2005, the AfroPunk Festival has been the two-day music festival of choice for left-of-center heads, young and old, in the greater New York City area. The festival caters to the definition of AfroPunk as “a platform for the alternative and experimental” and has featured the likes of punk gods (Bad Brains, Death, Cipher), hip-hop elite (Chuck D & DJ Lord, Questlove), and all things in between (Body Count, Danny Brown, Lianne La Havas, Meshell Ndegechello, THEESatisfaction), not to mention the best from the worlds of art, clothing, literature, and activism; but its beginnings were much more humble than big names like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu might imply.

photo credit: AllHipHop

photo credit: AllHipHop

The origins of the AfroPunk movement can be traced back to the subsets of young African-American/POC kids trying to make their way through the punk, hardcore, and other “fringe” music scenes dating as far back as the 70s; but in the early 2000s, James Spooner and Matthew Morgan came together to expose it to the world. Spooner’s 2003 film Afro-Punk (originally titled Afro-Punk: The ‘Rock & Roll Nigger’ Experience), which chronicled the stories of four members of the community, intercut with interviews from groups like Fishbone, Death, and others, was the first big push the community had received in the public eye; and its relative success helped push the very first AfroPunk Festival, which took place in the basement of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2005.

The fest played to a small group of wildly enthusiastic fans, whose euphoric momentum and creative energy eventually drove the fest to the much bigger space of Commodore Barry Park in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn; and complete with a BMX/skate park, graffiti walls, and beautiful black/brown bodies that light up photo galleries across the internet, it’s morphed into an all-encompassing experience since then – that didn’t cost a dime to get in.

photo credit: StyleBlazer

photo credit: StyleBlazer

Artists that occupy the niches and fringes of Black music, whether it be punk, electronic, hip-hop, R&B, soul, or whatever it is that Reggie Watts does, have taken one of the fest’s many stages; my first year here, the lineup saw me bouncing between Bad Rabbits, Phony Ppl, Das Racist, Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monáe, and the lineups have only instilled more thirst in fans as they grow bigger and bigger. The fest next weekend (August 22-23) boasts a heftier lineup than anyone could’ve been anticipating, mainly the one-two-three punch of living legends Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, and Ms. Lauryn Hill, but the lineup gets crazier from there: Kelis, Danny Brown, Raury, Death Grips, Suicidal Tendencies, Thundercat, Kaytranada, Goldlink, SZA, Vintage Trouble, Cakes Da Killa. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, big names like these are coming at a cost this year.

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