What is Afropunk? It's a type of energy, really, but that doesn't capture what's been happening at the three-day festival in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, where masses of black thought, power, leadership, and arts have come together to perform and express themselves. Now in its eleventh annual celebration, the festival takes its name from the documentary film Afro-punk by James Spooner who wanted to illustrate the black punk rock movement.
What began as a subculture among African Americans has exploded onto the scene, melding activism, music, and style for those who didn't quite co-sign with mainstream black culture and fashion. A freelance corporate marketer and former Afropunk intern named Shaunna Randolph is described as being "decked out in a white tank over a pair of skinny patterned jeans, her hair a beautiful cloud of miniature ringlets," in a recent Racked article. Individual style and taste is everywhere at Afropunk; and if that sounds ironic to you, consider that the festival gets its origins from a feeling of difference inherent to black Americans.
"I wanted to make a movie that I felt I needed to see when I was 14 and it was all starting. I just came at it with this punk rock attitude, like, fuck it. Other people make movies, why can't I make a movie?" Spooner explained to Racked.
Not feeling the mostly white punk rockers at the time, Spooner sought out the D.I.Y. punk scene that was less hardcore and violent and more diverse and racially-minded. His film covered bands like Fish Bone and TV on the Radio, but today, artists such as Ms. Lauryn Hill and Janelle Monae are included in the festival lineup.
Seeing a full-blown festival result as a reaction to his documentary is as great a reward that Spooner could have asked for, despite that punk rock is more of an ethos and state-of-mind nowadays, "And whether they're there to see Lenny Kravitz or they're there to see one of the opening bands or they're there just to be around a bunch of black people who aren't laughing at them, that's why I did it. That's why I made the film," says Spooner echoing the similar sentiment Randolph expressed about Afropunk's unabashed sense of inclusiveness and acceptance.
"Fauxhawks, locs, piercings, studs, jean jackets with patches, and everything that I had seen the white kids do that I wanted to be a part of, but I just couldn't make that cross," she explained while describing the various looks her fellow Afropunkers came through with. "I finally saw black kids doing it and owning it and making it their own. It was just everything that I ever wanted to be, but couldn't figure out how to be."
Don't sleep on Afropunk. It's a movement and a community of individuals who come together to enjoy and display the beauty of the many types of black and African cultures. It's where a kid with a faukhawk can headbang but still march in a Black Lives Matter rally. If you weren't on Snapchat yesterday, dial in. Today's the final day of this year's festival, which promises to be even more electric than when the power went out last night during Ms. Lauryn Hills's set and everyone in the crowd sang a capella to "Doo-Wop (That Thing)."