If the first day of Afropunk was all about it’s incredibly energetic music, then the Sunday of the celebratory diverse arts and culture festival was it’s more reflective, quieter sister. The various stalls, which filled up a huge proportion of the festival, really came into focus on it’s second day; with a large array of independent designers, artists and charities displaying their various wares.
As much as Afropunk’s music carries a message of inclusiveness, the charities and stalls that were packed into a thrift market like setting (including London’s own Gal-dem), focused on their own goals of creative expression. Well worth a mention is anti-cencorcism charity Index, who help to give an authorial and musical voice to those who have been denied it. The aforementioned Gal-dem Magazine similarly gives a perspective to Women of Colour in London and around the world, and is well worth a look for an alternative angle on arts and culture.
Even though many of the musical heavy-hitters featured on the previous day, there was still an awful lot to see at Afropunk 2017. The large Green Stage really came into its own, with a huge variety of genres and styles on display throughout the day. Post-punk band Black Orchids played an early and high-energy set to a crowd who were most likely recovering from the insanity of Saturday’s afterparty. You can check out the eight tracks that define Black Orchids’ Afropunk experience here!
The Green Stage then followed up with a variety hattrick of “black girl magic”; to quote the enegmatic master of ceremonies. First up was R&B singer Kiah Victoria, who provided a serious soulful vocal punch. Taking the baton from the hands of The Internet, the previous evening’s headliners, Victoria (“like the Queen”) contrasted widly from the Black Orchids, providing a smooth bass-lined groove. Rock/metal goddess SATE was next to own the stage. With moves to kill and a voice to die for, she embodied the swag and charm that Afropunk embodies. Even if you tried, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.
Racing on at a breakneck pace came NAO, a highly skilful British vocalist and head of record label Little Tokyo. Her value as a role model is undeniable; with an entrepenurial spirit, she has carried herself and her record label along in an industry where Women of Colour are often ignored or sidelined. Her joyful, electronic tones encouraged some of the greatest shape-throwing of Afropunk 2017. NAO’s Mura Masa produced track ‘Firefly’ was a sing-a-long hit that joined everyone’s voices together wonderfully.
Possibly the most mind-blowing and odd experience of the festival was Thundercat’s set. The psychedelic bassists music is undeniably funky and strange; blending elements of heavily warped baselines with droopy drum breaks to create something that comes from a comic-book dimension. At the moment, no one makes music remotely like him. Without flare or ceremony Thundercat suddenly approached the the lead microphone. There seemed to be a mis-comunication between him and the festival’s production team throughout the set up process; the problem seemed to lie with the numerous effects pedals that provide Thundercat’s odd siganture sound. After a lot of instrument tweaking and head-shaking, he suddenly addressed the crowd; “F*** this”, he said bluntly, before launching into his set. Much of the brilliance of Thundercat live was strictly down to the way his fingers skilfully spidered up and down his frankly insane six-string bass. Its hard not be seriously impressed by his technical ability.
His band were similarly ridiculous; drummer Dustin Brown looked like a man possessed as he battered out freeform jazz inspired drum lines at a breakneck pace. Thundercat’s crowd interaction verged from ridiculing and accusatory to thankful and loving; “People talking through your s***, thats pretty f***** up” he laughed, only half jokingly. But in the end, it is hard not to love a man who looks like he just woke up, stepped out of bed and still owns the stage. His set veered between funky and the downright weird, and it felt almost as though the audience had strayed into the band’s own personal jam session. It wasn’t for the crowd, it was for them.
Last, but certainly not least, was Willow Smith. Love her, or hate her, it’s undeniable that she has a grip on the pop-culture imagination. She’s the daughter of music and cinema royalty, and pours out a child star essence which is actually pretty facinating. “I’m torn alot of the time” related the sixteen year old “sometimes I just want to go off grid, record a bunch of albums and drop them all at once”. Willow, accopanied by her guitar and backing band, took the audience through an unusally grown up set, concerning love, loss and everything in-between. Truthfully she is certainly much more than her breakout hit ‘Whip My Hair’. To top it all off; the Fresh Prince himself; Will Smith and the equally facinating and quotable Jaden could be seen up in the rafters of the Red Stage, waving to the crowd. Not something you see everyday.
Afropunk was an experience in so many ways. Above all else however, it represent a valuable safe space for creative expression and the love of the artistic process.