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AFROPUNK; The Story Behind the Festival

When people think about or speak of the rock scene, there are certain types of images associated with it. What may come to mind are images of piercings, tattoos, crazy hairstyles and specially made clothing seemingly customized for certain individuals. However, in all our thoughts about the rock/punk scene, we hardly ever visualized people of colour in it. Why? This is because many of us have been unaware that black Americans have actually had a strong history in the rock/punk genre and still do even today. In light of the recently concluded 2016 AFROPUNK Brooklyn Festival, let’s look at the brief history of this movement.

The term “Afro-Punk” originally referred to people of colour (predominantly African Americans) who were in the punk scene. In the past, these individuals were often ostracised for identifying with a scene and culture that was predominately white.

In 2003 Matthew Morgan produced ‘Afro-Punk’, the seminal cult classic documentary spotlighting Black Punks in America written and directed by James Spooner. The movie focused on exploring the lives of four of these individuals and how they cope with issues of race, loneliness, interracial dating and black power. Through this movie, a platform was given to thousands of multi-cultural kids fiercely struggling to identify with a lifestyle that wasn’t very commonly acknowledged in their culture. Morgan, a music industry executive, instinctively understood that the indie rock/punk/hardcore scene had powerful appeal beyond the predictable Caucasian audience.

In 2005, James Spooner and Matthew Morgan curated the first Afro-Punk festival at the iconic Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to the delight of enthusiastic crowds. The festival celebrated and exhibited what would become known as the cultural cornerstones of Afro-Punk: music, film, skate, BMX, art and the fans – individuals who are active parts of the Afro-Punk community. This now annual festival still celebrates today the fans as fiercely independent individuals, and the livelihood of the community.

Over the years the Afro-Punk festival has been the venue for ground breaking acts like, Saul Williams (beat poet), The Negro Problem (Passing Strange), Afrika Bambaataa, and Janelle Monae who has performed numerous times at the festivals. So far, the online community has been the push behind the exploding AFROPUNK movement, creating an authentic virtual home in and across AFROPUNK’s social channels, nurturing music’s best and brightest.

Today, AFROPUNK has become much more than a movie, and evolved into a touchstone of a cultural movement. This movement is very similar to that of the early days of Hip-Hop, in the sense that alternative-minded urban people have come to realise they are the core of a strong, innovative, fast-growing community. You could think of it as an initiative that is working to promote a progressive attitude towards creating positive change. By using the arts, it breaks down the culture of ostracising people that are perceived as different.

AFROPUNK has been described by the New York Times as “the most multicultural festival in the US,”, and is set to spread its wings far and wide. In 2015, AFROPUNK debuted in Atlanta and the first ever AFROPUNK Festival out of the United States took place in Paris. Organisers have also announced that they have plans to bring the festival to other cities, both in the U.S. and internationally, organized by Morgan and partner Jocelyn Cooper.

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