Just days after the death of Terence Crutcher, the need for black solidarity has never been greater. From the streets of Charlotte (where protestors have fought gallantly) to the suburbs of north London, people have gathered to celebrate blackness and the many forms that it comes in. In a country where you're the minority, finding spaces that cater not only to you but your culture can be difficult at the best of times. In recent years, many DIY spaces have popped up due to the creative, hustling nature of young Black Britons. However, these spaces are often created in response to the growing need to be around others who share similar lived experiences and cultures—an adage that Afropunk, a Brooklyn-born music festival, aims to live by.
When Afropunk initially announced the line-up, they were met with backlash due to M.I.A.'s bizarre inclusion. Black people, especially in the UK, are rarely afforded a space where they are able to celebrate their cultures without others co-opting. Many felt that M.I.A.'s inclusion was nothing short of appeasement, which, for a festival that claims to be punk in nature, is ironic. Notting Hill Carnival, for example, has over the years become littered with brands looking to capitalise off an event which was sparked by racial injustice some decades ago. The festival organisers since rectified the initial error, following a vast number of complaints, by announcing the inimitable and otherworldly Grace Jones as a replacement for rapper M.I.A. As it turns out, it was the brightest decision they could have made.
The punk scene may have all but died out but black punk, afro-punk if you will, is alive and kicking as long as racial injustice and marginalisation is.
Compared to the early years of Afropunk, the festival contains less of a punk nature nowadays. The punk scene may have all but died out but black punk, afro-punk if you will, is alive and kicking as long as racial injustice and marginalisation is. Bands such as Young Fathers, The Noisettes and Big Joanie brought the punk energy on Sept. 24, which has kept the black punk scene bubbling underneath the cloak of mass pop culture. Acts such as Loyle Carner, Lady Leshurr, Purple Ferdinand and Laura Mvula brought the best of black British music in their own unique ways, and reminded people why this small island has continued to produce some of the purest music we have to offer. If you were to imagine a person whose name brings as much excitement as it does mystery, it's Grace Jones. Over the course of a career spanning almost four decades, Jones has reinvented and redefined her own artistry and how she wants the world to view her. In an age where black artists operate within rigid parameters, Grace remains a beacon and inspiration for all those that dispel myths of black people existing as a monolith. Unlike the events held in Paris and Brooklyn, which are typically held over a weekend, festivities only lasted for one day and there was a missed opportunity to not only celebrate but to make it a landmark moment in Black British history.
Some have argued that Afropunk London could've perhaps done more to highlight instances of racial oppression and inequality, particularly here in the UK. Nevertheless, this was a day for black celebration and pure and utter jubilation. On a relatively grey London afternoon, it was near-impossible to shroud the colourful celebrations with negativity. Blackness, in its myriad of forms, was able to flourish through the expression of music, dance, and the culture that surrounds it. The social implications of a predominantly black festival in London are immeasurable; whilst the inaugural Afropunk London event had considerable room for improvement, it reminded the establishment that black people are here and we matter—even when we come together to celebrate the richness of our cultures.