Afropunk: A Festival of Music, Culture, and Unity
    • TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2016

    • Posted by: Mandi Dudek

    This year's Afropunk returned to Brooklyn's Commodore Barry Park with performances by Ice Cube, Laura Mvula, Thundercat, The Internet, Tyler the Creator and more. It's the twelfth year for the festival with attendees averaging about 70,000 people and if you've never been to Commodore Barry Park, that's a whole lot of people to fit in such a space.

    Getting into the festival was a mess - not for me (thank you, media pass) - but the line was stacked all the way back to the main road. There were only a few people checking bags so the line seemed to be moving sluggishly both Saturday and Sunday. Once I was in, I was extremely pleased to see all the food trucks set-up on the road right after the entrance before you head into the park like you'd see at a block party or street festival. Instead of the usual lineup of food trucks on the perimeter of the stage spaces, you can indulge in the 25+ options of food from around the world with enough space to breathe and you still can hear the music from two of the three stages. Win.

    I was able to catch a part of the high-energy set from Toronto rock singer, SATE, and it was a perfect way to start my weekend at Afropunk. SATE mixes hard rock with gritty funk and some bluesy soul and as she rocks her signature dark lips and bleached mohawk. Ho99o9 was playing at the Red Stage and it involved a ton of screaming and crowd-surfing with their shirts off. Benjamin Booker weaved through his 2014 self-titled album as the girls in the crowd lit up whenever he would smile at them.

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    Cee Lo Green was a huge highlight of the afternoon. He came out wearing a red and gold robe, backed by a complete band and opened up his set with the ending chant of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'". The whole crowd sang and danced along, "ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa." Since each act at Afropunk was pretty slim on time, it seemed like Cee Lo Green's set was a little rushed - but incredibly energized and amazing, nonetheless. He would randomly sample parts of songs such as Spice Girl's "Cmon," OutKast's "B.O.B" and Devos' "Whip It." He explained how he wrote the song "Don't Cha" by Pussycat Dolls then performed his own version, switching out "girlfriend" with "Don't cha wish your boyfriend was smooth like me." After teasing his hit song from 2010, "Fuck You" a few times throughout his set, he saved it for last.

    One thing Afropunk needs to change for next year is the set-up between stages. The bottleneck was real trying to get from act to act. It was so bad for Tyler the Creator's set that I had to stand on a tree trunk behind the fence of the basketball court where the stage was. I watched a few brave souls try to go through the small opening to get into the stage area, only to watch them get sucked into the crowd and spit back out of the gate. And it was like this for every afternoon/evening set on both days. I couldn't even work my weasel-ing skills to stealthily move up in the crowd because we were jammed so tightly in an area where everyone was trying to go four different directions.

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    Laura Mvula is a real gem. She's sweet as can be with a voice like an angel. She came onto the stage wearing an orange and black dress with face paint and holding a white keytar. A highlight of her set was "Phenomenal Woman," which she dedicated to all the women in the crowd following with saying, "You are glorious. You are wonderful." Some other highlights were "Flying Without You" and "She." Towards the end of her set, she explained she normally doesn't do heartbreak songs and then she said, "... then I got my heartbroken - in this city actually." Then she said, "It's called 'Kiss My Black Ass!" as she laughed and performed "Kiss My Feet." She ended her set with an amazing cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."

    I'm pretty sure Flying Lotus is a must-see at one point in your life. He's creative, experimental and his visuals are so vivid and wild. His set started about twenty minutes late, which ran into the start time for TV On The Radio, so I ended up being that girl who left after FlyLo's opening song then bounced back and forth a couple more times. TV on the Radio closed out the first day of Afropunk with a flawless, rock performance from start to end. They played "DLZ" and "Happy Idiot" early in the set followed by "Will Do," and "Wolf Like Me" to wrap it up. I've seen TV On The Radio a few times before Afropunk, and I honestly don't think they can put on anything short of an extraordinary rock show.

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    Sunday of Afropunk was over in a blink of an eye - mostly because of the lack of organization and hopping around from stage-to-stage in perfect weather. I spent the first half of my time in the festival exploring the food trucks (I ended up getting a few chicken empanadas, incredible) and sat down to people watch. I feel like every set I tried to catch on Sunday was extremely delayed - causing it to clash with another set I wanted to see - or the time it took traveling in between stages was increasing as the crowd poured in the festival for Ice Cube.

    One of my favorite sets of the whole weekend was Seattle-native Sango, who played at the Gold Stage on Sunday night. The Soulection producer was playing "Agorinha" when I ran up dancing along with the rest of the crowd. He played his own remixes of "Overnight Celebrity" by Twista, "Gotta Have It" by Kanye and Jay-Z, and a re-work of Drake's "One Dance." The dancing never stop during Sango's set, especially when he played his track, "No Hora."

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    The Internet never disappoints, even when their set time gets pushed back. They opened with "Dontcha" then weaved through the songs of their 2015 album Ego Death. But let's talk about Bad Brains, Fishbone, and Living Colour - three bands that had three set different sets at Afropunk, yet they were all on-stage at once! Living Colour came out to perform a few songs on their own, including a cover of Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?" When Living Colour walked off, Fishbone played a few of their biggest hits, including, "Every Day Sunshine" and "The Suffering."

    But when the vocalist of Bad Brains couldn't perform because of health reasons they decided to a show must go on. So why not gather a group of badass musicians to jam out and make up for it? The Suffers' vocalist Kam Franklin, Living Colour's guitarist, Vernon Reid, and LC's Corey Glover joined the remaining three Bad Brains members on stage, which created a bit of a happy riot in the crowd. Then they brought out George Clinton. I mean... Whoa.

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    After well over two hours of Living Colour, Fishbone, and Bad Brains, it was already much later than Ice Cube's start time. He ended up coming out on the stage at 15 minutes passed when his set was actually supposed to end but it was worth the wait. He was dressed in black from head-to-toe and wearing a Raiders hat, of course. He played "Check Yo Self" after his opening song and you could hear an echo throughout the park of the crowd singing along to the chorus. He brought out DJ Yella and MC Ren from N.W.A to perform a few songs with him as well as Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr. Some huge highlights of his set were "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It," "No Vaseline" and "You Can Do It." After Ice Cube reassured us he's still a B-boy after making a bunch of children's movies, he closed his set with "Today Was a Good Day" for an incredibly appropriate way to leave Afropunk 2016.

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    Afropunk started out as a festival to provide African-Americans an opportunity to build a community amongst the predominantly white punk subculture. And since the festival started in 2005, other genres such as soul, R&B, hip-hop and jazz have been added to lineups. But it isn't only about the music.

    Attending Afropunk as an outsider (being a white girl journalist with no fashion sense) gave me the opportunity to witness such a strong community of people who felt completely safe to express themselves however they chose to. The crowd wore outfits that exuded confidence and pride. The words "Come as you are..." was displayed on several signs around the festival grounds and the organizers made sure to emphasize that there were no gender-specific restrooms by hanging signs above the stalls. Everyone was welcoming and happy. Afropunk is more than just about the music. Afropunk is about African-American culture, unity, celebration, and love. And this past weekend exceeded every expectations.
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