Afropunk Joburg
Afropunk Joburg

Afropunk Joburg Edition

Afro: as in born of African spirit and heritage; see also black (not always), see also rhythm and colour see also other, see also underdog.

Punk: as in rebel, opposing the simple route, imbued with a DIY ethic, looking forward with simplicity, rawness and open curiosity; see also other, see also underdog.

AFROPUNK is defining culture by the collective creative actions of the individual and the group. It is a safe place, a blank space to freak out and construct a new reality, to live your life as you see fit whilst making sense of the world around you. I previously wrote about the festival by confronting the difference between cultural appropriation versus appreciation which raised some questions about who has access to the African spirit and heritage. Afropunk was birthed in the name of a collective African identity in a shared space that articulates the nuances of the African spirit and culture. It is made clear that the intention of the festival is to create a safe space that condemns racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, fat-phobia, able-ism, hatefulness etc.

Afropunk Joburg took place at Constitutional Hill over New Years and was the first show in Africa.

“The move to Johannesburg is a natural fit in line with Afropunk’s desire to make connections throughout the diaspora, creating bonds between those with a shared mindset,” said festival organiser Matthew Morgan.

Joburg is now part of the global Afropunk community and I was eager to see how a Brooklyn-based festival would translate to a South African audience.

To my disappointment, the festival was not at all what I anticipated. Although the weekend had some great moments, I believe that Solange pulling out of her performance at the last minute really set the tone for the festival. Solange announced in an Instagram post that she would not be performing at the festival due to medical reasons and within minutes people were selling their tickets. News of her cancelling incited backlash on Twitter as festival organizers failed to communicate this which was upsetting considering that we paid R900 for a ticket to see Grammy winning artist.

The first day of the festival was rained out, but as the heavens opened up on us our spirits remained high and we were not letting R900 go to waste. We had no choice but to make the most of it, so we ate, we drank, we smoked, we danced and that concluded the first day. We woke up on Sunday ready to bring in the New Year, thankfully the sun was out and we were determined to do it right this time. It is very true that the weather dictates the mood of a festival because on day two people were beaming with warmth and love and good vibes. Ultimately the highlight of Afropunk Joburg was of course the vibrancy of South Africans who fully expressed their creativity and originality. South African fashion photographer Trevor Stuurman captured this for British Vogue magazine, which is by far the best thing to come out of this whole experience. Trevor Stuurman said that the event was career-defining and reaffirmed the aspirations of Africans saying,

“A kind reminder dear African child: Your dreams are valid. Honoured to have exclusively captured the first at Afropunk on African soil for British Vogue”.

Anderson Paak and The Free Nationals saved Afropunk in my opinion. Paak radiated so much energy and swag that he had the audience captivated for his entire performance. I literally couldn’t stop staring at him. With that being said, I do think that the rest of the line-up for the festival was underwhelming. Since it was the first show in Africa I felt that festival organizers could have extended the line up to more African artists from other parts of the continent. This would have been a great platform for emerging artists to showcase the diverse music range that Africa encompasses. The line-up was limiting and not the best reflection of what Africa has to offer musically.

Reflecting on the whole Afropunk experience, I believe a lot of things were done half-heartedly on the part of the organizers, it was a missed opportunity to truly represent African artist, and I failed to see how the space effectively confronted the issues they claim to represent beyond selling over-priced t-shirts and hoodies. Afropunk presents itself as a movement that confronts a wide range of social issues, however, I hate to be the one to say it, but capitalism is not one of them. Many people argue that the Afropunk movement has become a victim of its own popularity and has become just another mainstream music festival.

Anderson Paak at Afropunk, Image by City-Press.

With all this in mind I would just like to reiterate how important it is for Africans to come together and create platforms for ourselves and not count on international platforms to create spaces that “allows” Africans to be Africans.

All Images featured in this article are taken by Trevor Stuurman for British Vogue.

Fathima Leah

Contemporary creative journalist, fashion and culture enthusiast.

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