Is Afropunk still a socially responsible vehicle for black-owned businesses?

 By Mustafa Abubaker

October 19, 2018

The influential community of young, gifted people who communicate through music, art, film, comedy, fashion, and more descended upon a bright and bleary Atlanta weekend just as fall’s sweet grooves settled into the air. The carnival has come a long way from the 2003 documentary that highlighted black presence and visibility in the American punk scene. That same documentary titled Afro-Punk explored how black youth lived within the constraints of white punk subculture. It served as a reclamation of sorts, especially of rock. The roots had gone missing and it was James Spooner’s mission to clasp those roots once more. It was jarring for Spooner: growing up and falling in love with the punk music scene and the culture but realizing it had been alienated from him from his white peers as he grew older. He started to ask questions. That’s always where it starts. One well thought out question precedes a million more and, before you know it, those same questions have enough power and curiosity behind them to topple the status quo and bring change to something that has long been rigid and static. He started with just a simple mission. He was going to travel the country and keep up with four African-American artists on their paths. Since that fated project, Afropunk has come to be a voice for the unwritten, redefining the urban experience.

Photo: Tenzin Sherab for CLTure

The event has become a socially responsible business, a platform and a vehicle that supports other black-owned businesses globally. Through an official statement released by Afropunk back in September, they detailed the festival supports over 250 black-owned craft makers/vendors, 120 black-owned restaurants, and food truck owners annually. They contract 2,000 plus black people to work their events and have a core staff of 25 people who work year-round in their offices in New York, Joburg, Atlanta, Paris, and London. The head of site operations for the festivals is a black woman, head of production is a black man, their head of sales is a black queer woman, their Chief Content Officer is a black queer man, they have put 50,000 people through their Earned Ticket (free tickets in return for community service) program and they exclusively work with black-owned safety companies worldwide to keep their community safe. This is unheard of in the festival and live entertainment space, a business that is dominated by major conglomerates.

They believe in the right to agitate, resist and speak out. They genuinely believe in provocation and the freedom of ideas, but they also believe in civil discourse. Afropunk is not perfect and the people who work and run Afropunk are not perfect, but they work hard and do their best with the resources they have at hand to give back to their community.

Photo: Tenzin Sherab for CLTure

In Atlanta, the air was different. As mentioned, fall had just arrived in all of its pent up glory, as if the season had been bursting at the seams. Once the levee broke, so to speak, the energy that coursed and filtered through the sleepy Mechanicsville neighborhood of Atlanta was almost palpable enough that you could reach out your finger and touch it. At the very least, the energy was felt throughout. From the stages to the artist Lonnie Holley’s art studio to a socially-charged-and-conscious Activism Row, the word “carnival” made more and more sense as the hours went by.

Most of the Atlanta attendees were enthralled by the opportunity to witness N.E.R.D live. It could not have been a better curation. Who were more punk than N.E.R.D, a group comprised of Pharrell Williams, Filipino Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley. Their raucous melodies gave way to a lane that fit Afropunk’s mission clearly. N.E.R.D made sure to play crowd pleasers like the Migos collab “Stir Fry,” and saved “Lemon” for last. The crowd started to chant the infamous “ATL, hoe” — which is a rite of passage for concert-goers in the Dirty South — and the band decided to squeeze in an encore. As N.E.R.D left the stage, Sango took it to round out Day 1 with a DJ set that included choice cuts from his discography like “Khlorine” featuring Smino.

Pharell Williams of N.E.R.D. photo by Tenzin Sherab for CLTure

Day 2 had a different energy to it. The air was clear, the sun was shining, and the sky was a cerulean blue. Performers on Sunday included Pusha T, The Internet, and Kaytranada. But fans were particularly ecstatic to see Noname live, a relatively new Chicago recording artist who burst onto the scene not long ago. The crowd was most present for The Internet, a multi-person band that included acts like singer/songwriter Syd, producer/multi-instrumentalist and Atlanta native Matt Martians, and singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Lacy who is enjoying a solo career as an artist as well.

Afropunk in Atlanta had been rained out in years past, but this year the carnival brought nothing but peace and positivity. The way the events were organized and operated across the sprawling space that is 787 Windsor bodes well for Atlanta’s creative community, and more importantly, the people that foster it with every last bit of their indomitable spirit and belief in the arts.

Learn more about Afropunk.

More images from Afropunk 2018 in Atlanta, GA.

Pusha T photo by Tenzin Sherab for CLTure
Steve Lacy and Syd of The Internet. Photo: Tenzin Sherab for CLTure
Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. photo by Tenzin Sherab for CLTure

Chad Hugo of N.E.R.D. gives us a shout.

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