My short answer is yes – Afropunk Brooklyn is worth going to. Even if it’s just once to say you did it. My longer answer is yes, but only if you’re willing to defend it and yourself.
Afropunk as we know it today has become what I’ve dubbed “Black Halloween”, based solely on what I’ve seen in the past couple of years. 2018’s festival was where I saw the most outlandish of outfits that, in my opinion, came off as costumes. Costumes that people weren’t donning as self-expression; it felt like people were just going to Afropunk to get their picture taken. And trust me I love a good picture taking, but it felt akin to “peacocking” around the shows at New York Fashion Week. The intent felt attention-seeking and not true to who people were. Performative even.
The Afropunk of my college years and some years after was free (and eventually became a nominal fee), which I think lent itself to the culture and the heart of the festival. It was a space for unsigned artists, for those who didn’t feel represented. It was a space for “outliers”. People went with friends to chill out in their most outward expressions of what Blackness meant to them. For some it was a ripped band tee, chains and Docs. For some it was a mesh top, a maxi skirt and cowrie beads. It was pure. It was genuine.
After a couple of years of watching it stray away from that, this year felt different. Last year’s controversy with Ericka Hart being kicked out of VIP and subsequently the Editor-in-Chief of Afropunk resigning, along with rumors of mistreatment of employees, vendors and an alleged move to market to non-POC, Afropunk lost a lot of supporters. The thinned out crowd this year proved that.
But with all of the drama it felt like an awakening happened. I wouldn’t say it was a full spiritual awakening, but it felt like a light bulb went off. The energy this year was a lot more chill than it’s been. The costumes were at a minimum. People seemed to just be there to enjoy the music. I honestly didn’t even see vendors or too many photographers. Afropunk, though still crowded, felt a hell of a lot more calm. The acts made sense. Even the social media throughout the weekend felt more genuine than in the past couple of years.
So would I recommend attending Afropunk? Yes I would, especially if your musical tastes mirror mine. I was more there to see Leikeli47, Masego, Chika, Kamasi Washington and Goldlink than I was Jill Scott. I also felt the love this year. It felt like a community again. Everyone – regardless of ability, orientation, and color – was being cheered on. The heart was pumping through Afropunk, and I hope Afropunk as an organization holds on the spirit they encapsulated in 2019. I look forward to seeing what happens in Brooklyn next year.
image by Trévon James