This September I had the pleasure of being part of History. AFROPUNK's first festival in London (http://afropunkfest.com/london/).
AFROPUNK (http://www.afropunk.com/page/the-movement) had its first festival in 2005 in Brooklyn and has since been rocking its funky beat each year in different states and countries. The festival is part of a movement that fiercely advocates positively promoting and protecting the socio-economic identity of black people. And what better way to do this than through music. It connects and communicates in a way most other channels cannot. The cult classic 'Afro Punk' in 2003 by Matthew Morgan, sparked the movement, where he spotlighted Black Punks in America and since then AFROPUNK festivals have continued to bust through the constraints of stereotypes and racism in order to inspire and liberate.
I first discovered AFROPUNK in 2013 via Instagram and I've been a firm follower ever since. I immediately identified with AP and its ethos. Being someone who has never quite followed the 'norm' I embraced the fact that I 'fit out' with society. Although this allowed my identity to flourish and be free in may ways, it could often be an isolating experience. AP allowed me to connect with so many other individuals who 'fit out' just like me, in their own way, and I related to that immediately.
This was my first ever AFROPUNK festival. My friends who have been to ones in Paris and Brooklyn often recount how amazing it was, so I was super excited to see what would be in store for us at Alexander Palace.
I have to say my final thoughts are mixed. Overall it was fantastic to see so much melanin in one place, celebrating our beauty, yet a part of me was a little disappointed with the structure and layout inside. I felt like the stalls selling merchandise was very similar to what I might see at Spitafields Market on Africa Day. This was disappointing; not because the produce on sale was sub par but because I was expecting an experience that was new and different from anything before. It was also a bummer that the festival wasn't outside, like in Brooklyn. Perhaps it was the anticipation of bad weather that prompted the decision- who knows. Let's hope next year it'll be somewhere like Finsbury Park or Hyde Park- hey any large, clean park will do! But I guess that's what first years are for- to gain experience and make the next year even better.
Of course the pièce de résistance was the almighty Grace Jones! That woman is out of this world- seriously, she's an everlasting being not of this planet. And she is utterly fantastic. A woman who I have admired since I was a kid watching this goddess like creature with the smoothest of shiniest melanin rich skin in films like Conan. Grace Jones has been this ethereal, free spirited creature in my life and it was such an experience to see her in concert. When I tell you she slayed up and down that stage, Chai! A hula hoop, constantly, rotating round that incredible body as she strutted up and down, WHILST SINGING! I don't know how she did it - Listen, I can't even hula hoop round my arm..! Grace Jones is a magical being- she was definitely a wonderful highlight of the festival.
At the end of the night, when we all clambered out of Ally Pally; waiting for the night bus or Uber, my friends and I spoke in depth about how necessary it was for AP to, finally, come to London. "We need more safe spaces" was a comment that was reiterated throughout the conversation. And it's true more spaces need to be created for the British black community to express themselves in the safety of not having to defend, justify, explain or apologise for our existence. And without having to witness our culture being appropriated (with no recognition to the originator) time and time again.
This is why AFROPUNK London was both an historically and culturally important event. It was a visual affirmation which reinforced not only to people of colour but, also, to London our presence and constant influence on the music, art, fashion, and history of Great Britain. And that the celebration of this is integral to the fabric of British culture.
So whose responsibility is it to create and provide these 'safe spaces' (and by 'safe spaces' I refer to an environment- which can be online and/or in person, an event, club, forum, community, festival etc that enables the community within it to be free to express and enjoy themselves without scrutiny and oppression)? Who should be at the forefront of enabling of these environments? First, action needs to taken by those who are in demand of it: black people/people of colour/LGBTQ community. Then the rest of society need to embrace this acton- and if you chose not embrace it then leave it in peace.
And with the long awaited arrival of AFROPUNK in London, now over, I'm confident that these safe spaces will continue to be created until there is no need to even refer to them as 'safe spaces'. I look forward to that indeed.
Long Live AFROPUNK! (and Grace Jones- legend!)