AFROPUNK emerged from a pandemic to celebrate blackness out loud and we loved every minute of it.
This past weekend, thousands of people gathered at the Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Georgia for a music-led experience that intertwined culture with art. Marking the return of its annual festival, AFROPUNK sought out to create a safe space for allies, tastemakers, creatives, and consumers of Black culture alike.
AFROPUNK’s theme this year was “WE GOT US,” a reassuring message for the Black community to know that we gon’ be alright despite the gloom and doom of this pandemic-filled world. And what better way to say fuck classicism, sexism, homophobia, fatphobia (and all the other social stigmas) than with an open invite for Black people to celebrate Black culture in the Blackest way possible. From the bedazzled ensembles embroidered with affirmations and colorful motifs, to the custom-made garments that highlight Afrocentric style, AFROPUNK weekend was more than your average music festival. It was a well-needed hiatus from reality: a moment in time where Black people can revel in culture, unapologetically.
The two-day event played host to a number of special guest appearances. During KP The Great’s set, the “& Friends” portion of his performance caught everyone by surprise, virtually pivoting into his own mini-concert. KP covered two decades worth of music in one setting, sharing the stage with T.I – who was sidetracked by an impromptu father-son performance with Domani – David Banner, Earthgang (Olu and WowGr8), Capella Gray (“GYALIS”), J.I.D and CeeLo Green.
Tems performing what’s arguably considered the song of the summer (“Essence”) at AFROPUNK is the crème de la crème of festival experiences. There’s something about hearing a hit song on the radio and seeing it performed live that induces a sense of urgency. It just gives you a different level of appreciation for good music. She graced the stage sporting a two-piece suit and biker chain combo, giving nuance to her “let’s get wild” remark towards fans. Drowned in bass, Tems also serenaded the crowd with cuts from her previously released For Broken Ears project to commemorate the album’s one-year anniversary.
Smino’s headlining set was the perfect way to close out night one. Moreover, before AFROPUNK’s two-year break from live music, Smi was an opener on the same stage millions of at-home viewers gathered to watch him perform on. A true full circle moment by the definition.
If it wasn’t for serpentwithfeet’s strangely personal monologue – which also included reading an excerpt from Brother to Brother (Beam, 1991) – I wouldn’t have realized the extent of his prowess as an artist. The different frames of intimacy that help shape his world, his fascination with living in the moment, he’s very much alive (and free).
Wale’s headlining performance to end AFROPUNK weekend was everything it needed to be and more. From his Go-go themed mashup of modern day bops, to the many special guests that joined him on stage (Manny Wellz, Rotimi, Rico Nasty, Rick Ross), the D.C rep’s efforts to entertain didn’t go unnoticed. Admittedly, Wale’s spectacle struck my observation, so much so that I felt compelled to beat my feet at one point.
With a star-studded lineup that featured select performances by VanJess, KP The Great & Friends, Tems, Smino, Yung Baby Tate, serpentwithfeet, Fousheé, Rico Nasty, Wale, and many more, AFROPUNK delivered a medley of unique sounds that champion inclusion in music, too. This wasn’t a genre-specific event that safeguards expression for the sake of familiarity. AFROPUNK showcased the depth of talent that exists on a local and international level. It’s almost like there was an intentional effort to deliver a crash course on how to live your best life mid-pandemic, while jamming out to the tune of songs that have made these last two years bearable.
Photo credit – Derrius Edwards