AFROPUNK Atlanta Is A Respite For Black Radical Leisure

July 6, 2022

As I sat surrounded in the madrigal of color, art, sound, and Blackness of Afropunk Atlanta, on September 25th and 26th 2020.  I could not help but think how just 70 years ago this would not have been a feat of possibility.

I recalled thoughts of the Queen of gospel  Mahalia Jackson documentary where Mahaliadiscussed the difficulties of driving around in her brand new Cadillac. She was frequently stopped by police and questioned, but Ms. Jackson, a shrewd woman of her time, set forth a plan. She had one of her white female friends pretend to be her “Ma’am, white boss, When the police would stop her. She would give them her number and say the car belonged to her “Ma’am,” and she was running errands. 

Instances like these happened only 70 years ago. The concept of Black people having wealth or deserving leisure was so distant from the catacombs of the US consciousness that seeing a Black person enjoying themselves or owning luxury cars was a near-impossible task. Whiteness, especially in the southern US, has long held consternation towards Black leisure. This is why AFROPUNK Atlanta is a poised attestation in which Blackness quarrels with White supremacy to enjoy leisure.

Such conflict with black liberty, provided part of the backdrop for the famous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896, which institutionalized segregation in public accommodations until 1954. White aggrievance contra has led to the dismantlement of several leisure venues throughout the nation. AFROPUNK, being held in the Southern state of Georgia in a city often referred to as the “chocolate” city, speaks to the radical measurement of Blackness in the United States. While Blackness remains oppressed in many ways, from police brutality, the industrial prison complex and lack of financial equity in comparison to our White peers, Black people, for once in history, have found comfort and refuge in events hosted and maintained by us and for us.

In the 1920s, prosperous Atlanta realtor Cornelius King purchased a summer home in  Kennesaw, Georgia, surrounded by forty-seven acres of land, which he called “King’s Wigwam.” He turned this home into a summer retreat for African Americans by building cabins and developing fruitful business relationships with local White business owners.

“King’s Wigwam” was dismantled overnight by the Ku Klux Klan after they went on the prowl for a young Black man they accused of raping a white woman. The KKK smuggled the young fugitive in the trunk of a car. Paying guests and the King family abandoned the property that night. Still, segregation was an espy of contingency for Blackness. In turn, separate, private educational institutions, retreats, fraternities, and many other organizations were established.

Throughout the early 20th century, Blacks used a variety of public conveyances for travel. While they experienced many adjunctions against their civil liberties and repeated affronts to their dignity, Black people continued to travel and leisure like their affluent white counterparts. King’s Wigwam serves as a predecessor to the Afropunk Atl. It was one of the first Black-owned retreats in the Southern US that aimed to provide Blacks an opportunity to enjoy themselves and celebrate their culture in parallel to their white counterparts. While there are several music festivals currently with Black headliners, most are often highly concentrated white leisure odalisques, often marketed by predominantly white influencers.

Less than a century ago, “Jim Crow ” was a wren of abhorrent encroachment on Black bodies. Even when Blacks arranged outings in remote areas, they were never free of the fear of confrontation with White supremacy.  

When I watched Doechii and the Afropunk Festival cascade and saunter on stage in her 80s rock-themed leotard, I could not help but think about the freedoms we have to sit, enjoy, and consume Black artistry. Listening to Doechii sing her new single Crazy and watching her vogue choreography as she repeated her spirit-finger mantra “I can do anything” made me appreciate those who came before me, who wanted to believe they too could do anything, but were often met with obstruction of justice towards their divine purpose. Afropunk Atlanta serves as a deacon of Black radical leisure where the artistry of mixed and varied genres formulate a thematic upheaval of proverbial culture normativity. 

Like other forms of African-American expression, Black music is a reflection of African-American life during any given time. Historically music festivals, primarily those with Black headliners, have often been used to scurry political tension amongst both Black and White people. They created an atmosphere of racial contact and proposed propaganda to improve race relations, bringing Black and White people together physically to emphasize similarity and develop commonality between racial lines. By including well-organized parochial musical thought that inoculated crowds into communal singing and celebrations, this reinforces the US identity of unity in opposition to injustice; We Are the World.

It is clear that the festivals’ sponsors were intentionally working to create a culture that aims to create a better society, to combat racial tension and strife in major cities throughout the US. The festival sponsors acted as gatekeepers to the larger communities in the US, and they aimed to inoculate a fully integrated culture, a mantra of “we are one race” to eliminate divisive rhetoric and policy of the US government. 

Still, Black music festivals, such as the church revivals that featured Mahlia Jackson, and the many chitlin circuits that vagabond the nation,  were tangible and remained enclaves of commemoration of Black culture, celebration, and heritage. The musicians adopted many ideologies of the rejection of White-imposed identifications, primarily focusing on gospel, jazz, blues, and the combination thereof of Black created musicking, which spring to life Black nationalists music-making that aimed to reestablish ties with their African and Southern US heritage. The rejection of White-sponsored music festivals led to the development of Black Music Festivals such as Soul of Summer, which derived from these backwoods church revivals and chitlin circuit as per-mentioned, and leisure retreats of Idlewild, where big celebrities went to recluse, bond, and enjoy themselves in the safety of togetherness and Blackness. 

While Serpentwithfeet performed at AFROPUNK I retreated to imagery of the gospel revivals of Mahalia Jackson.  When they opened up with an ethereal angelic melodic harmonization they catapulted me into a cerebellum of spiritual jubilee. Their vocals stirring, lyricism, and physical imagery was the modern apotheosis of the backwood church revivals, advertence to a reiki session. They sent a simple message to the audience, love, which is what the Black community has often prayed for, to be loved and seen as an individual worth equally access and rights. Serpentwithfeet’s costuming served as reverence to Yemaya, an African ocean deity. Serpentwithfeet jived and jittered wearing a blue fishnet top along with blue jeans and a blue jean jacket, holding a white beaded scarf in his hand. Their dichotomized messaging through lyrics alone will make you raise your head towards the sun and bask in all of the joys and blessings of the universe. 

AFROPUNK is essential to the historical lineage of Black music making that infiltrates the subconscious of universal thought and formulates a chrysalis of winsomeness that decries past Black Musical inception. Not to be so supercilious as to say without “Summer of Soul,” there would be no AFROPUNK. Summer of Soul is known as the Black Woodstock, where many artists of the late 60s galavanted and dizzied their musical conundrums of joy, lust, allure, and Black Nationalism. Still, without AFROPUNK, there would be no agglomerate of Black otherness, the subcultures of Blackness unbeknownst to pop culture.

Atlanta native Baby Tate recently made headlines for her performance attire at AFROPUNK. The artist came out wearing a long puff trench coat and bodysuit that was leopard print. She had black platform boots on, giving us punk rock. Her strawberry-colored hair matched her bright pink nails. She performed Rainbow Cadillac, which pays homage to Danity Kane’s Showstopper

Baby Tate proudly embodied self-love on stage as she confidently bounced and swayed to the beat of her drum. Her voice control and timbre paralleled empyrean homophony. Her lyrical rap is an aura, jubilant and splendor.

Concerning those who opposed her attire, she stated that “As Queen Bey once said, ‘wanna see some REAL A$$?! Baby here’s your chance!’ Shoutout to all my natural bellied bodies,” wrote Tate. “I see you. I am you. I love you. No matter WHAT my body looks like, it is MINE, and I love it! Please project your insecurities onto a piece of paper, burn it, and throw it away. Then go look in the mirror and tell yourself how much you are loved.”

Black music festivals are a form of Black thought and rejuvenation in the splendor of existing freely, if not just for a moment. They provide the artist with a rich platform of love and acceptance, where one can openly and freely express their individualism without reprimand. 

AFROPUNK Atlanta was the lovefest we as Black people so desperately need. We are constantly being inundated with outrage and oppression from White supremacy in the colloquialism of Black existence. AFROPUNK radiates as you are, be who you are, and never submit to the pressure of selfhood. In the summer of 1870, Frederick Douglass, wrote to an associate, “Heretofore, colored Americans have thought little of adorning their parlors with pictures. They have to do with the stem, and I may say, the ugly realities of life. Pictures come not with slavery and oppression and destitution, but with liberty, fair play, leisure, and refinement.” When attending AFROPUNK Atlanta you feel attuned to the manifestations of our ancestors, where they long to simply attend a public venue in peace and enjoy themselves after toiling for the little money they could generate.

The performances at AFROPUNK are significant because they provide a place of cultural connection between various Black subcultures such as, Black nerd/geek culture, Black anime, rock, punk, spiritualism, and underground hip-hop, that create social bonding between Blackness to influence the larger culture, simultaneously reaffirming innate Black otherness and hierarchies. Whether in Atlanta or Johannesburg, I applaud AFROPUNK for their continual promotion of Black leisure and joy. 

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