Mel D. Cole


afropunk brooklyn is black af

August 26, 2019
51 Picks

AFROPUNK Brooklyn takes place just 10 minutes by foot from where I’ve lived for over 15 years. For 51 weekends a year, it’s a park with a field that’s used for adult softball and youth football and soccer. But one weekend a year Commodore Barry Park transforms into a separate place, a peaceful, magical little slice of Wakanda. Or, really, like what it’d be like if Black people had their own state in America — AFROPUNK Nation — where we could live in a way that was free and authentic and loud and loving. 

In AFROPUNK Nation we see what America would be like if America loved Black people the way it loves Black culture. AFROPUNK shows us that Blackness is infinite. In the crowd, there’s every imaginable sort of person, each expressing themselves in a zillion ways. The hair is big and bold and knotted (or twisted or cork-screwed or brightly colored or wild), but always Free. The clothes talk, sometimes with verbal political messages — on Saturday I wore my Kaepernick jersey and wasn’t the only one—and sometimes with sartorial political messages like “I feel like a king” or “I feel like an angel” or “I feel like I’m back in Africa.” Just walking through the crowd is powerful with all that self-esteem and brotherhood and sisterhood all over the place. I felt accepted and seen and supported and safe. I think everyone there feels it’s a safe space where they can let their own freak flags fly. A tall brother came up to me to talk about AFROPUNK — everyone at AFROPUNK is talking about AFROPUNK and marveling at the community around them—and the brother said, “This is eclectic and Black as fuck. Even with the infiltrators.” 

AFROPUNK Brooklyn 2019 (photo: Mel D. Cole)

We were a few feet away from a blanket filled with white folks but one of them, a young woman, wore a black sweatshirt that, in white lettering. read, “Decolonizer.” I get the sense that she knows what’s up. “Black as fuck” also means being inclusive. We are big enough to accept them into our spaces if they know how to act and don’t forget their place. AFROPUNK Nation is open to white people if they know how to be cool. This is not a space where whiteness is supreme. It’s an oasis away from all that, a bridge apart from the world outside, the increasingly frightening world where a racist is President, hate crimes are on the rise, and white people have never acted more like victims. They say having possessed supremacy makes equality feel like oppression but we ain’t anywhere near equality so what’s up with all the victimhood? At AFROPUNK I escaped all of that. I forgot that it all existed. And it was so nice. So peaceful and quiet. It felt like just being in that crowd was a political message about our beauty, our power, our true selves, our incredible diversity. The crowd was just as artistic and funky as the artists themselves.

On Saturday I watched Gary Clark, Jr., a young rock guitar God wailing on his axe, giving us visions of Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker, and late Texas nights where men get shot between the eyes for breathing too loud. And I watched Leon Bridges, that soulful crooner with the once in a generation voice that takes me back to the 60s and the South and real pathos. And I saw Jill Scott, the neo-soul goddess, the self-crowned queen, who became a superstar with her debut album. She stepped into the game almost 20 years ago and went straight to elite status and she continues to be more than just an artist, but a repository for the dreams of her fans. But that’s what superstars do: they give you a life you can hang your dreams on. 

On Sunday I saw J.I.D., a wild, high-energy young rapper. There was the spiritual intellectual jazz of Kamasi Washington, and the crazy hip-hop of Danny Brown. But my favorite performer of the day was Santigold, with her new wave-meets-dancehall-meets punk sound. The woman with the eye-popping fashion and effortless cool. She’s gone from A&R to songwriter-producer to hot new artist to the sound behind every other TV commercial to a veteran artist. And she’s done this on the strength of music that’s uncategorizable. She makes her own lane. Santi is the epitome of the vast diversity of AFROPUNK, embodied in one career. She has clear influences, yes, but she boils them into a stew of her own making and sonically she stands apart from all others. That’s AFROPUNK — we’ve all been to music festivals and we’ve all dreamt of living in Wakanda; and this, AFROPUNK, is more than even the sum of those awesome parts. This is a world of love and acceptance and music and weed — a world of beauty and power that’s Black as fuck. I don’t want it to be a vacation from the scary real world. I want to live in AFROPUNK nation.