Back at AfroPunk Festival for Day 2, the excitement and good vibes were still floating around in the air. Taking a bit of time away from the stages, I wandered around the vendor area to check out the stalls of merchandise available. Loads of handmade clothing, jewelry, and natural hair products were on sale and I couldn’t leave without picking up a new bracelet and a pair of earrings as a keepsake.
Before I burned an even bigger hole into my wallet, I decided to check out the first performance of the day at the Red Stage. HLXT, pronounced “Holt,” made the best of his early set time, drawing in the smattering of folks hanging around the area, curious to hear more of his music. He had a great sense of humor and made excellent use of the stage. Although he admitted that they have never played any of this music live before, I couldn’t make out any bad notes, and the crowd certainly had a good time, taking part in a few sing a longs before the set was over.
Back at the Green Stage, Curtis Harding and his band strapped on their instruments, while a lone artist did some live painting right below the stage. Apologizing for “partying a bit too hard last night and wearing a serious hangover,” Curtis’ performance went off without a hitch. His soulful voice carried out over the crowd as he sang tracks off his debut, Soul Power, and left us all wanting so much more.
As I approached the Red Stage for the second time, two females in glowing white outfits twirled around on the stage. I picked up my pace to get a much closer look, and it was Oshun, the soul/hip-hop duo of Niambi Sala and Thandiwe. The 2015 Battle of the Band finalists definitely showcased why they deserved to be onstage, and they rocked it. Messages of empowerment, self-respect and cultural pride were brought to the forefront and coupled with urgent, infectious drum rhythms that kept everyone moving.
The excitement was brimming over when I made my way back to the Green Stage for Jesse Boykins III, and I soon found out why. This man’s energy is unmatched, and his voice was a powerhouse. Stepping onstage with about 4 layers of clothing, his exertion quickly forced him to shed layers, much to the delight of the people in the first row. The passion and conviction in the way he delivered each note gave me chills and was one of the standout performances of the day for me. This was my first time seeing him perform, but it surely won’t be my last.
South African artist Petite Noir took the stage to perform his “noirwave” music. Noirwave combines new wave influences with his South African upbringing and he proved to be quite a captivating and dynamic performer. Some of the lyrics got lost in the music, but the feeling of the overall sound was enough to keep the audience engaged and present for during his set. If you missed his set, be sure to check out his videos on YouTube – lots of beautiful imagery there.
Next up, 19 year old phenom Raury stepped onstage after a short delay due to sound issues. No one seemed to mind though, because as soon as he opened his mouth, the crowd erupted. Mixing elements of hip-hop, soul and folk, Raury has managed to carve out a unique niche for himself in a short period of time. Taking moments of his performance to acknowledge the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and going so far as to grabbing a young fan’s artwork, signing it, and returning it to her was one of the most genuine and heartwarming moments I saw all weekend. This young man performed like a seasoned veteran and he only has an EP out. Expect great things from him in the future.
Back at the Green Stage, Vintage Trouble annihilated the crowd with their blend of James Brown-esque soul and rock. Front man Ty Taylor performed like a true showman of years past, playing to the crowd’s every need, and working the stage in quick fashion. The entire band was dressed to the nines and performed with an air of precision that is hard to come by in this day and age. I loved them immediately. Their fans, dubbed The Troublemakers, must have come out in droves because this was one of the most talked about sets on Sunday, hands down.
Next on the Red Stage was hip hop artist Goldlink, who describes his sound as “futurebounce.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I can tell you what I saw: the guy ripped through cover a cover of Nirvana and then into his own music, and whipped everyone into a frenzy so huge, I could have sworn I saw the barricaded shifting. Everyone seems to enjoy the phrase “turn up” these days, but if there was a photo next to that word in the dictionary, it would be of Goldlink. He had impressive, boundless energy and a knack for reading the crowd’s energy and keeping it going.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kelela’s admittedly “sad songs” while somber in nature, weren’t a complete downer. They were honest, soulful. Kelela sings the type of music that seemingly everyone has no issue relating to, no matter where you may happen to be in your life. Her voice was raw and emotive, instantly connecting with the eager and eyes and ears trained on her movements around the stage.
Gary Clark Jr. took to the main stage as the sun was setting, throwing a yellow-orange glow on the festival. He wasted no time in ripping into “Bright Lights,” which was highlighted by an extended solo. That’s what we came for after all; the lightning quick guitar work that has a massive amount of soul. Unlike other acts at the main stage, Gary’s audio mix was on point and you could hear the growl of the six-string like it was your heart beating. **
For the finale, Lenny Kravitz was one for the record books. Growing up I’d hear his music played around the house, and I thought it was cool to see a black man playing rock music. While my allegiance to his music has waned over the years, songs like “American Woman,” “Let Love Rule, “ and “Are You Gonna Go My Way” are instant singalong songs in my book. Timeless, and classic, Lenny’s voice has never sounded better, and he has never looked better too. It’s not often you see a 51 year old man looking the way he does, and still has the energy to perform night after night on his “Strut” tour. It only proves to me why Lenny is still one of the biggest rock icons to date and having Brooklyn be his hometown; he was the perfect festival closer for this year.