Lucky for us that a space like Afropunk is still within reach for black America and can serve as the inspiration for similar spaces to crop up.
All right, I have a question: Do y’all fuck with Afropunk? Here’s why I ask.
Recently, I was invited by a colleague to attend the Afropunk festival, a black-centric music event committed to providing a carefree environment for a diversity of black expression, held in Brooklyn, New York.
Effused colleague: “You would love it! We had a great time last year. It was amazing! And, more importantly, in terms of price, it’s one of the few festivals that’s accessible to black people.”
Middle- and working-class black people, that is.
After doing a bit of digging, I have to say, that sure seems to be the case.
Indeed, out of all the music festivals currently on the menu, including major ones like Coachella and Lollapalooza, Afropunk looks to be, without question, the most accessible. By “accessible” I mean “affordable” or “within relative financial reach for working-class black folks.”
Granted, some persons (including myself) may not be acquainted with the music of any of the alt-black musicians listed in Afropunk’s lineup. However, at a moment when the smallest inkling of black joy seems few and far between, and seeing a live performance of your favorite black mainstream artists can potentially cost you hundreds of dollars; at a moment when it seems like so few black spaces are available to middling and poor blacks struggling to make ends meet, a creative outlet like Afropunk is critical.
Accessibility is everything. Attending festivals, period, for any audience, black or white, is expensive AF. You won’t find a 2- or 3-day pass, for example, under $200.
Afropunk, on the other hand, charges $80 for a whole weekend of activities. Paying $80 may still be too steep for folks, but for those with disposable income (and, trust me, I completely understand if you don’t have $80 dollars to spare. The struggle is most definitely real), it’s a helluva lot cheaper than $200 or $300.
Interestingly, Afropunk the movement doesn’t trace its genesis to music but to film: the popular 2003 sleeper hit Afro-Punk: A Rock and Roll N***r’s Experience. At just over 60 minutes, Afro-Punk dedicated itself to exploring the alt-black community, punkers and rockers connected by the shared experience of feeling unwelcomed and excluded from the (white) punk-rock music culture. This experience of isolation and eccentricity was a microcosm of the story of being black in white America, and Afro-Punk was the first to deal with it.
Adding a website — complete with a message board so that like-minded visitors could engage with one another — Liberation Sessions and, eventually, a space offline where visitors could meet, the first Afropunk festival was held in 2005. Black-identified persons came from across the U.S. and Europe to attend.
Until 2015, 10 years after the first Afropunk festival, attendance was free. However, as the festival offerings grew and expanded, so, too, did the budget necessary to sustain it. Backed into a corner, festival organizers had no choice but to charge attendees an entry fee. Nothing outrageous, they hoped. However, their reasoning was that if festivalgoers were willing to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to see Jay-Z, whose music embodied the bling era of hip-hop music, then surely they would pay to participate in a cultural event with a more radical and progressive agenda — as radical and progressive, that is, as market capitalism will permit.
Festival planners felt that taking this action would reinvigorate the movement and return patrons back to the initial impulse of Afropunk, and that placing a “value” on the festival would encourage a greater and more meaningful appreciation of Afropunk’s mission: the freedom to express the diversity of black culture without backlash or judgment.
Still, even after taking into account what some critics call its “corporatization” of Afropunk, it remains the most affordable and cost-friendly of all the music festivals in play. This is as much a part of its significance as the activities themselves. Without it, the goal of linking up these disparate parts of the black community would be impossible.
People who identify as blacks from across the broad spectrum of the diaspora break bread here, which, in turn, helps preserve the health and wellbeing of black America, particularly poor blacks who continue to be systematically priced out of this market. Afropunk remains one the few safe spaces available to black humanity.
We need more like it, more spaces to celebrate and compliment and uplift one another, more opportunities to love on ourselves, dramatically and unapologetically.
It’s often pointed out that the innovations and contributions of black culture to American and global music, from spirituals, blues and jazz to rock and roll, rhythm and blues, soul and hip-hop, is central to a fully, four-dimensional, fleshed-out understanding of human identity and the human condition.
But here’s the thing: what good is pointing all that out, if the ability of black communities to see black bands, whether underground or mainstream, has been gradually foreclosed?
Black live performances must be accessible to black audiences, and it’s a damn travesty that far too many of the concerts and festivals that feature predominantly black acts and frontpersons are not.
Lucky for us that a space like Afropunk is still within reach and can serve as the inspiration for similar spaces to crop up.
So, what y’all think? Do y’all fuck with Afropunk? Would y’all be willing to? Or nah?