The Afropunk festival is masterminded by James Spooner and Matthew Morgan. James Spooner’s documentary Afro-Punk, released back in 2003, was the seed that started the sprouting of this huge all-accepting tree that is today’s festival. Afro-Punk highlighted black punks across America, and in the first years of the festival the mission was to provide a stage for unacknowledged black alternative performers. A few years later, things started shifting and the event began to attract larger audiences and include more musical genres like R&B, soul, and pop. Today, Afropunk encompasses African-American culture overall, with one of the predominant target demographics being the black queer community.
In 2016, Paris and London joined the roster of hosting cities, just a year after Atlanta and a year before that Johannesburg in South Africa. Having visited Afropunk Brooklyn last year, we’ve fallen in love with the festival’s energy and the many beautiful spirits that we were lucky enough to encounter and photograph. It was a no-brainer for us to be like, fuck yeah, we are going to Paris and London next year!
Originally London was supposed to host the event a week after Paris, but for some reason it was pushed back until the fall, with no definitive dates. We’ve overheard some people say that London Afropunk is “shit anyway”. Wonder why…
Some of this year’s Paris headliners included Solange, Janelle Monáe, Lizzo, Raphael Saadiq, Masego, Rico Nasty, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Ibeyi, Scarlxd, Muzi and so on. We were also hyped to shake that ass to DJ Anaïs B’s playlist, as she killed it last year at the Brooklyn fest.
Lizzo shut the house down with her electric performance – wait no, Janelle Monáe is the electric one… Lizzo shut the house down with her larger-than-life personality and stage presence. She said “My name is Lizzo – I’m all about body positivity and self-love. . . . Imagine the world without big bitches, it’s terrifying. Biscuits would be disgusting! There would be no cheese!” LOL. that was almost as amazing as her 30-second flute solo, which only Lizzo could make cool AF.
Janelle Monáe finished her performance as she made the crowd in front of the stage crouch down and stay quiet. She jumped down from the stage and crawled her way into the middle of the audience, about 2 feet away from us. It was like being in a safari. Everyone around her was like a lion, ready to jump and love her to death. So when she gave a cue for everyone to go wild, everyone fucking lost it. Her dancers started spraying everyone with water guns from the stage; Janelle made it out of the crowd somehow and was pulled onstage by security. Earlier in her set she announced: “We must continue to fight for women, we must continue to fight for black trans women. I’m proud to be here as a queer black woman from Kansas. We must continue to fight for black folks, yes. For our people with disabilities. For working-class folks like my parents and my grandparents were, like your parents are, maybe. We must continue to fight for immigrants. We don’t deserve to be in cages. We must continue to fight for all the dirty computers around this world. We must fight corrupt governments, systems that don’t see us, never were designed for us. Burn it down – build something new. Lastly, we must do everything we can to impeach Donald Trump.” Whew, that was a lot to transcribe! But amen, girl, amen!
The US president wasn’t only on Janelle’s lips during the weekend it seems that everyone had a bit of an opinion about him when we would mention that we were from the states, which was surprisingly unsurprising. One of the attendees told us how much he loved traveling around our country, but he won’t be coming back until Trump is no longer at the helm of America.
Meanwhile, Solange didn’t hold back with her performance either and had an even longer speech where she admitted going through some dangerous body issues, not knowing if she would ever be able to grace Afropunk’s stage again, how she had to learn to accept things out of her control and learn how to work with the spirit that she used to run from as a child. She spoke about being grateful to have the support of a community that has allowed her to grow, change, and experiment; standing in her truth and being fully herself; looking up to artists like Kelis, who went through her own evolution. By the end of her speech she asked everyone to put their phones down and embrace the moment: see the people around them, remember the smell, the temperature, the looks on people’s faces.
Janelle Monáe also mentioned wanting to stay in people’s memories. So much of those two days were intertwined and connected: the ever-flowing beautiful energy and the community’s support of each other was so thick, it could be seen flowing through the air. So much of what was said and happened resonates with our outlook on life as well. For us, It’s all about the beautiful moments. It’s about capturing the time when people are the happiest – by being themselves; it’s about capturing someone’s photo and memorializing them in that beautiful state, where your imperfections become perfect, when you embrace yourself and love yourself the most.