Live Report: Afropunk, London 2017

Alxndr London muses on the nature of Black British identity...

Last year, London's first Afropunk took place at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) and for one day, I was teleported to a land of melanin, surrounded by thousands of people who looked and spoke like me. It felt foreign; this was the free-spirited Afro-futurist utopia I had only seen in my dreams.

I won't lie, I was surprised. As much as I wanted an Afropunk in London, I doubted that we were truly ready for it. If you understand and appreciate the complexity of the Black British experience, it is not surprising that the first Afropunk London only happened last year.

Black people make up about 3% of the British population and yet we are as colourful as rainbows. There is no comfortable way to define us all. However, till recent years, placing Black people in a box felt like a simple feat. One could easily assume a person was of Caribbean or African descent by their forename/surname, hair texture, facial features and even the subtle nuances conveyed in their dress sense.

I remember a London in the 90’s and 00’s where fear was rife within the Black community. It felt like our blessings were problematic. Black Londoners would often keep to themselves, with their heads down, and much of what Afropunk stands for was not entirely embraced.

We were not kind to ourselves. Individuality was not celebrated. Self-love was a myth and there was a limit to how much Blackness one could display at any given time. There were no dark skinned Lupita’s, with short 4C hair were adored by the media – do you have any idea what that did to my generation? Mate, the phrase “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice” seemed to be only applicable in the same sentence with Ribena.

I raise my hands and acknowledge that I’m generalising and subjecting the Black experience, but a Black woman who looked like Skin from Skunk Anansi would only existed on the fringes of my community.

My parents are Nigerian migrants who birthed and raised me in London. They sent me to an all boys’ school, we worshipped at a Pentecostal church in Peckham and there was absolutely no place for ‘different’ within these settings but I always wished things could be different.

This is why I am genuinely and eternally grateful for the 2003 documentary entitled Afro Punk and the movement it began. The documentary explored the Black experience in an overwhelmingly white, punk scene and gave voice to the African-American kids who embraced the radical attitudes of the punk-rock movement.

The people behind the documentary established a festival in Brooklyn a year later, celebrating the punk experience from a Black perspective and they made sure they highlighted a lack of racial diversity/representation within the punk scene, by standing up and changing things. Nice one lads.

Long gone are the days where Black men believe they cant wear pink because it’s gay, or Black women can’t have too many opinions because she’ll come across as difficult and challenging. Afropunk has no time for those colonial, Willy Lynch ideologies that seek to exploit every difference between human beings in order to control, divide and conquer.

It has evolved to embrace a variety of musical genres, reflected by last year’s line up, which included the likes of Kwabs, Laura Mvula, Akala, MNEK and Young Fathers (all Black British acts).

This year’s cosmic lineup featured wicked performances from JME, Nadia Rose, Little Simz, Kojey Radical, Danny Brown, Mickey Lightfoot, Nova Twins, The Internet, Sate, Lianne La Havas and Thundercat, to name a few, but Corrine Bailey Rae, NAO and Willow were my standout performances for the weekend.

Everyone who took the staged echoed all of our thoughts when they acknowledged how much of a blessing it was to share a line up with other black artists and perform to majority-black audience. Corrine Bailey Rae even said she wished something like this existed when she was 15. Didn’t we all?

NAO had the sing-along crew at full attention and Willow gave us 100% rock star energy which radiated through the masses and had every one rocking and bopping their heads away.

Just like last year, there was no violence or drunken mayhem. There was no elitism or “you can’t sit with us” antics. It was a day of love and diversity, precious people, magical music and those fearless fashions that we have all come to appreciate at Afropunk. It was straight up Kumbaya vibes. The correlation between crime at live music events and Black music/artists/attendees has now been proven wrong.

If Afropunk is a tree, then besides the visible music, art, fashion and culture, it's branches also embody activism and politics. Queer black collective BBZ, transported us into the black teenage bedroom and took us through a journey that showcased similar childhood experiences to mine. This is the diversity and inclusion I yearned for as a kid.

This gathering originated from a desire to provide black people with a sense of community. The dark, industrial feel of Printworks (this year's venue) featured stalls and markets, food and spaces where people could sit down and simply connect. Previous generations of Black Brits never had anything quite like this. I got to hold hands, laugh and dance with my people, in a space where ignorance no longer fuels fear, where people of colour are no longer afraid of being different.

All I ask is for more Afros adorned with clips and flowers, more braids, more smiles, more colourful Dutch wax and more unapologetic Black Magic.

I wouldn't complain if Sampha, Solange or Frank Ocean were added to the line-up too. Hint hint.

Anyways, enough preaching from me, I'll see you there next year. X

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Catch Alxndr London online HERE.

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