“Had any people, anywhere ever been as sprawling and beautiful as us?”
One year ago, during the last weekend of August 2015, I sat in awe of black people, our beauty, our magic, our hair, our style, our music, our culture, our vastness. For 3 days and 2 nights, I marveled at the diaspora that connects us all and brought us all to this one moment of poetry.
AFROPUNK IS HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Okay, soooo, Afropunk starts at like 1pm and goes til 10 ish. I’m not about that life. (You know, unless it’s Cup Match and I’m in a camp with shade.) And on top of that, while many folks are music connoisseurs and had mapped out their festival schedule using the app so they wouldn’t miss an act, that wasn’t really why I was there. I wanted to be in the midst, to soak in the movement, the fashion, the art, the vibe. The music was a key part of that, but was not my sole raison d’etre.
We aimed to be there later in the day, like 3 or 4. Alas we made a misstep and hit up the Brooklyn Flea first because I love it there so much. But the heat… my god the heat. And plus we didn’t want to carry anything extra soooo, why are we shopping?
We aborted that mission and walked to the festival, stood in a LOOOONNNGGGGGGGGGGGGG line, and got in. By this time, it was like 5.00 and I was having a major sense of humour failure. And needed to sit down. You can’t bring in chairs, but I had a lovely blanket and needed to lay out on it for a second, preferably with a cocktail and do a quick lil vinyasa for my ailing back (I knowwww… I sound so old! But don’t forget the night before of approximately 9 hours of dancing in heels, 3 of them in a grassy park trying not to twist my ankle.)
But the sights lightened my spirit immediately.
I can’t even describe so just will link here and here and here and here to various photo albums that display the sea of black magic in all its gorgeous beauty. NEVER EVER before have I been in the midst of such Afrikan vastness and celebration of both our diversity and our sameness.
I honestly was in amazement. The shades of brown. The kinks of hair. The face paint, the head dresses, the colours, the brightness. In Bermuda, and across the diaspora, the light is gone from so many of our eyes, rightly so. But here at Afropunk, the sparkle is on parade, and every single person there was reveling in it. Reveling in not having to yell Black Lives Matter because yeah… if you’re here, you know that shit is true. Reveling in our blackness. The next two days were all about the truth of black beauty.
An article I read said, “Basically, if you were at Afropunk 2015, you were one of three people: a photographer, a muse, or a people-watcher watching the photographers and muses.” I was a people-watcher. It’s not my nature to be super creative and flashy with my style, so had zero intention of doing the most. My girly dresses were not going to get me featured on any Afropunk pages (In an ode to Grace I did go braless on the first day tho… very punk!), and that is cool with me, because the people that authentically curated their looks for this festival showed up for ALLLLL of us. Thank you thank you thank you for letting the world see how extraordinary black folks are.
To spotlight some other aspects of the festival:
The food: There were a couple food courts, the main one being a street of food trucks selling all manner of international cuisine from tacos, to jerk chicken, to empanadas to pizza. I walked up and down about 8 times before line length and my desire for something vegetarian had us stop at Toum for a falafel and chicken schwarma. The next day we went to Madiba for some South African lamb stew and Palenque for a Colombian arepa. Snow Day was also there – I’ve been following them on Instagram forever because they are a social entrepreneurship, hiring formerly incarcerated youth and training them in the food business. #lifegoals
My impossible desire was to try everything, and I keep dreaming about those damn empanadas. I wish there had been a punch card option to get small nibbles from each truck. (Who should I write?) The ONLY not awesome thing was that, as they wanted you to buy food AND drinks there, they prevented you from bringing in water. And were selling it for $3. Major screw face. Sort it out for next year.
The vendors: The first day I stayed close to the blanket because the exhaustion from my mini clubover (a hangover where you weren’t THAT drunk but you are just tired from the dancing) and just getting there and finding a spot meant I weren’t really trying to budge. So Dee and I made it the vendor market on the second day. Every manner of handmade artisan ware was on display – jewelry, head wraps, leather goods. I was there for all of it and scooped up some goodies that you will see me rocking in due course. Yes I got wraps. And yes, you will be jealous.
The night scene: Yesssssss once the sun went down there was nary any reason to try and fight the crowds for libations and treats because these found us in I’m-sure-frowned-upon but discreet cooler bags and backpacks and we were OVER THE MOON. Shout out to the enterprising young woman with the Hennessy + fresh fruit concoctions and her other all natural and vegan goodies. #thasallimmasay
Lauryn Hill: As set out in Part 1, Miss Hill was one of my primary reasons for attending. She decided to do her own thing and after arriving late, sat on a chair on a stage. As one of my friends put it, “I should have known when the damn pillows from World Market came on the stage as props with the mirrors and the paisley print….” *Kanye Voice* Lauryn imma let you finish, but wait just one minute while I go rustle up some pallets and build you a riser right quick so WE CAN SEE YOU. There weren’t any projection screens so in a field with some fifty thousand people, a small person sitting in a chair on the stage was not visible at all. I ank caught nigh a glimpse of her to this day, jumping and on tippy toes and all. Sigh.
Now, as I mentioned I’m not some musical genius dissecting paradiddle and rhyme. So many might disagree with me on this, but why oh why do musicians shy away from singing the songs that made you love them? Lauryn we wanna hear That Thing. We need to hear Killing Me Softly. We NEED NEED NEED HAVE TO HEAR Zion. Oh you have new music? That’s cool… we wanna hear that ... IN ADDITION to the rest! She sang nyet a song that we could warble along to, so as a result, the energy from the crowd was nil. The sound was also quite low and the people in the area around me started chanting, ‘Turn it Up. Turn it Up’.
It’s likely the folks closer to the stage had a different experience, as it seemed to me that the performance was more suited to a griot session, juke joint, small corner café intimate space. Not a giant field.
And then they just cut the sound and lights. There is no official response about what happened. Some are saying a generator blew; others are saying that since she was late, she was going over her time and they had to prepare the stage for Grace Jones. All in all, it was a dismal disappointment. Meh. Looking forward to that Nina Simone tribute album tho but in the meantime imma put Miseducation on repeat.
Grace Jones Part Deux: She closed out the first day of the festival and although it was pretty much the exact same act as the night before… I didn’t care a lick. She continued transforming us all with her alchemy and now every time you come to my house imma be blasting Night Clubbing and practicing my hula hooping. Be forewarned.
(Sigh of Pleasure) Lenny Kravitz: What is there to say? He is a god. He is as beautiful in person as he is in my dreams. When he came on stage an indescribable force pulled me running forward, leaving behind all my shit. Thank god for DeAna who was like, “What the hell?” And grabbed our stuff and found me in the mass of bodies.
Closing out the second day, this gorgeous man performed for almost TWO HOURS. He is the consummate rock star, and his band was EVERY. THING. His lead guitarist. His female drummer. His gorgeous singers. And he, in his tight leather pants *swoon* and his jacket and his shades and his face and his voice and his guitar and he’s on the left, now on the right, and now in the audience and … I… It was all too much.
Every time I thought he was done, stage gone dark, Lenny saying, “Get home safe, bye…” and I’m walking away dragging my blanket sad like Linus, the wang-wang of his guitar and silk of his voice would ring out and continue creating a pulse down yonder in my nether regions. I am not one to geek out over the famous. Do. Not. Care. I’m not asking to get a photo with you. Or for your signature. But this was not celebrity. This was, as with Grace, a voodoo. We were under his smoky spell and he could have walked across us like black Jesus because we had melted into an ocean that would carry his tide to whatever destination.
He sang it all. American Woman. Fly Away. Are You Gonna Go My Way. (Not Mr. Cab Driver, but all is forgiven Lenny). And we jumped and swayed, and sang, and now, “Is my voice gone? Yes it is GONE.” But I don’t care and I’m screaming and sweating and rasping and this is a moment I will NEVER. EVER. EVER. FORGET.
And just like that, it was over. We all slowly shuffled out of Commodore Barry Park, headed for after parties, headed for the train, headed to just sit and reflect, all of us with full spirits and blown minds. The entire affair was fully enchanting, a grand spectacle that was both otherworldly and deeply authentic. As if it couldn’t be real and yet nothing had ever been more real.
I am still in awe of my Afropunk weekend. There’s lots of discourse about it online. About how it used to be free. About how this year it wasn’t. About Lauryn. About Grace. About (sigh of pleasure) Lenny. About the fashion.
This will be just one more perspective out of hundreds that will be written. But because this was a moment of poetry, a powerful play - I know that all who were there, who felt the fire as I did, will also feel compelled to share their verse.
(Read Part I and Part II)