Festival season is still upon us, and there’s nothing better than getting to attend one in your own backyard. AfropunkFest, the Brooklyn based music and arts festival, was quite honestly the place to be this past weekend.
The first thing I noticed as I stepped onto the grounds was the wide variety of colorful, inventive outfits and the relaxed atmosphere. Festivalgoers brought out their best hairstyles, ranging from afros, to braids, dreadlocks, mohawks, baldheads, and in every color in the rainbow. The outfits spanned from barely there, to eccentric and to all black despite the sweltering temperatures. Boasting the “rules” of “No Sexism, No Racism, No Ableism, No Ageism, No Homophobia, No Fat phobia, No Trans phobia, and No Hatefulness, “ Afropunk was the ultimate, inclusive festival that offered a little of something for everyone.
Having arrived fashionably late for the first day, which I instantly regretted because of the long line to get inside, I made it to the Green Stage just in time to catch SZA’s sultry performance. Groups of women near the barricades yelled out words of adoration for SZA before she even stepped foot onstage. With her wild swatch of auburn dyed locks swaying behind her, she belted out from her 2014 release, Z, and worked every inch of the stage.
At the Red Stage, hardcore band letlive kicked things into high gear from the first note. It didn’t take long for a mosh pit to erupt in the middle of the crowd, and head bangers to stake their claim in the front row as lead singer Jason Aalon Butler growled words into his mic. Their intensity won me over immediately and if I wasn’t so afraid of getting kicked in the face in the middle of the crowd, I would have joined the moshers for a few minutes.
After a glowing introduction at the Green Stage, Kelis emerged looking as radiant as ever, and surprised everyone with the news of her pregnancy, touching on her hits “Baby I Got Your Money,” and crowd favorite, “Milkshake.” At one point she nailed a Mariah Carey high note that had everyone’s eyebrows raised; it was flawless.
Transitioning back into metal, Suicidal Tendencies took the stage and proceeded to whip everyone into the biggest frenzy I’ve seen in a while. Everything was nonstop action onstage. Lead singer Mike Muir assaulted the senses on vocals, while Nico Santora was the madman – interacting with the crowd, and the photographers in the pit, jumping off of the drum kit and amps and wailing on guitar. The band has gone through numerous transitions over the years, but their fans remained fiercely loyal judging by the size of the crowd.
After a lengthy buildup of numerous Prince and Michael Jackson songs at the Green Stage, Ms. Lauryn Hill finally took the stage after a tense 40-minute wait. Running through “Rebel,” “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind,” and Freedom Time,” while seated on a loveseat perched at the edge of the stage, and strumming her guitar, her signature raspy voice permeated the air, but unfortunately due to sound issues many fans were unable to hear her beyond the first few rows. From what I heard, once she found her stride, her voice was just as impressive as when I first heard her sing all those years ago.
For my final time at the Red Stage on Saturday, the much talked about Death Grips were a bit late to start due to similar sound issues. Once the issues were cleared up, the lights morphed into a hazy red that never really changed intensity. Booming bass and drums, and Zach Hill’s punk infused rap saw the crowd behind me surging forward with each hit. Crowd surfers tumbled over the front rail in quick succession soon after. I couldn’t make out any of what Zach was mumbling into his mic, but the feeling of the music was raw and primal and I literally had to tear myself away from the stage.
Finally, headliner Grace Jones ignited things at the Green Stage, wearing only a corset, white body paint in tribal markings, a golden skull headdress, a swath of fabric wrapped around her body. She had everyone on the edge of their seats, wondering what she would do or say next. She cursed a lot, way more than I was expecting, but she’s Grace Jones and she can do whatever she wants. We were also treated to a round of hula hooping during “Slave To The Rhythm” to close out one of the most impressive headlining performances I’ve seen in a while.
Article: Lesley Keller