Review: An amazing spectacle and spectrum of black cultural expression.
The real thing that will be hard to re-create in this article and, I expect to some extent, in the years to come is the feeling in the air and in the crowd, of black pride and unity throughout the entire day.
It was there when MNEK first lifted the tempo in the early afternoon as the temperature rose from (excellent) non-alcohol fuelled dancing.
It was there when rising South London’s Loyle Corner sang about family as he held his late father’s shirt with him on stage.
It was there with the paraplegic girl and her friends, smoking a joint and not giving a f*ck.
It was there in the Kente fabrics, the ‘Straight Outta Africa’ T’s and bespoke wares of the independent market stalls which roared throughout the day.
It was there with the gay and proud black guys who turned up in numbers, partying alongside hench West African men and elegant sisters with mutual acceptance. This was a vibe that I have not experienced at a festival before.
I loved this crowd. Man….correction. Woman, the crowd! As many beautiful and diverse expressions of individuality as you would expect to see flowers in a rainforest.
Within the full spectrum of black cultural expression on display, a noticeably high proportion of the crowd were women and predictably, necessarily even, we were 80-90% black and mixed race. There were SLRs everywhere, and the massive press queue as we arrived made it very clear that, as a community, we were invested in documenting this event.
Some opted for beaming selfies destined for three-figure Instagram hits, whilst others wore deep and defiant looks anchored in generations of resistance. And of course everyone danced, well.
Our photographer has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of the day, so alongside the pictures in this article, checkout his full Afropunk album and other fantastic work at nealgruerphotography.com.
The celebration of black alternative culture was dazzling, in the impeccable outfits and undeniable hair dos. The mental and spiritual adornments too, were evident and lots of interesting conversations added to the flavour of the day.
A positive sense of importance about the day was upheld in every friendly conversation we had and every warm look exchanged, with the crowd being true to the anti-hatred banners that draped every stage in ‘The People’s Palace’, reading:
In the nine hours spent there I did not see a single argument, not even that bait couple that waits until outside the venue to kick off. Nothing. Think about how many London nights out you can say that of.
Because the event was entirely indoors, the smoking area became a chill out area where charged conversation took place between new and old friends. With the occasional beatbox and freestyle cypher providing the perfect rolling, smoking and thinking soundtrack. At times it was like something out of a movie.
Akala and Loyle Corner
Akala’s ska-style versions of ‘Who’s the gangster’ and ‘Murder runs the globe’, which he dubbed ‘murder in the dark’ (that fans will be hoping to see repeated at his October 12th show at KOKO) and his ‘FITB 4’ were an unexpected, absolutely quality addition. A fitting tribute to the punk origins of the New York Afropunk movement.
Loyle Corner’s beats were reminiscent of early 90s US Hip Hop. Which was cool because that much-loved genre is another influential facet of our culture and arguably taking a back seat to Grime in the UK in recent years. The slower tempo swayed the crowd, brought smiles and showed off a promising MC talent that I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of before.
In fact, having not listened to much of the music on offer previously, I’ve inherited an Autumn of new listening across soul, RNB, Hip Hop and dance genres, the line up was exceptional.
Skinny Girl Diet
From female three piece punk rock act, Skinny Girl Diet, to the raw energy, coolly delivered by SZA to an attentive and connected crowd. Catching the end of his powerful soul performance, Kwabs was another high point, belting out slow jams that had me Whatsapping my missus. The insanely talented Noisettes stunned a London crowd into silence.
Then, as a fittingly confident and striking warm up for Grace Jones Laura Mvula’s, complete with keytar, almost won the line of the day award when describing one of her songs: “If I ever fall in love again and if that man is worth it, this is the song we’ll make love to on our wedding night”. It’s like that Laura yeah? I can’t remember which track it was so I suggest you buy her album ‘The Dreaming Room which came out earlier this year, and included this stunning collaboratrion with Niall Rodgers.
Finally, I suppose I can sum up Grace Jones’ performance in one, unwieldy life sentence. That goes as follows:
“Never until you have watched a 68 year old stunningly beautiful black woman refract lasers across the interior of a Victorian palace with her disco ball bowler hat, before thrashing a male dancer’s naked ass with a blonde gladiator wig and telling the audience to ‘put your phones down and your fingers in your pussy’ before hula hooping the entire duration of your final (US number 1 of course) tune resulting in a full on cascade of admiration, have you understood the true meaning of the phrase ‘age ain’t nothing but a number”.
Looking forward to Afropunk Fest London 2017. Peace. @hereiskweku
All images courtesy of Neal Gruer.