Afropunk’s inaugural London event was met with a fair share of criticism in its lead up, besides a headline change seeing MIA dropped and replaced by Grace Jones (for good reasons), but despite this the festival – held on Saturday 24th September – was a beautiful celebration of individuality and collectivity. Within the majestic walls of North London’s Alexandra Palace, the venue became host to stalls selling clothes, jewellery, art prints and more – supporting local black businesses. It also featured a diverse range of musical acts, those established as well as hidden gems – feminist punk band Big Joanie being one to keep an eye out for. Even though the turnout at Alexandra Palace was not as massive as it could have been, the vibe was incredible. Throughout the evening I ended up chatting to strangers who actually felt more like old friends and it was great being in this environment where people shared the same values, the same open-mindedness towards music, fashion and so on.
Afropunk’s three stages ‘No Hate’, ‘Soulection’ and ‘ID’ were host to various sounds/musical styles. One of the first artists I managed to catch were The Noisettes. Fronted by the dazzling Shingai Shoniwa, the indie/rock band opened with their first single ‘Iwe’ and closed with one of their most known songs ‘Never Forget You’, with the added addition of Savages drummer Faye Milton joining them. Shingai shone on stage in an iridescent waistcoat with long golden fringes and made the set fun – sharing with the crowd her joy at being part of Afropunk.
For me, Young Fathers performance was the most arresting. When watching the Scottish trio perform, one truly understands the band and where they’re coming from in that they make songs they want to hear and are not being restricted by the confines of any one particular genre. It is their mix of delicate harmonies, loud shouts, jagged beats, thick reverb, rap – in short, it is their experimentation with different sounds that makes their artistry individual within the world of pop music. Moreover, it’s so much more compelling when seen and heard live then on their studio albums. Although speaking with the crowd is minimal when it comes to Young Fathers, they make it ok. What they do is connect with the crowd on a spiritual level – pouring out their souls during each song. On stage, the trio continuously switch between holding individual mics and crowding around one. During songs Kayus Bankole tears up the stage with frenzied dance moves, G’ Hastings often suddenly stops still mid jerk to glare at the crowd for a moment and Alloyious Massaquoi is all the same, getting into the groove. Seeing Young Fathers live is definitely a must, the energy is something else.
As for Grace Jones, she is out of this world. Though her music is before my time and so I only knew a few of her classic hits, seeing her live was nevertheless an amazing experience. Jones played hits alongside some of her newer material and between songs she would go off stage for costume changes, all the while mumbling away to herself on the mic giving us these entertaining live commentaries. Her outfits were always crazy and spectacular (as you would expect) and she busted out her hula-hoop moves which were all the more impressive. Amazing Grace kept the crowd in awe throughout.
It would be fair to say that there was something a bit lackluster about Afropunk but overall it was a success. Hopefully, we will get to see the festival grow and turn into something that is as best as can be.