Afropunk London \\ A lesson in owning your self-expression
When AFROPUNK came to London for the first time in 2016, the terrain globally was particularly rough; Brexit, Trump’s presidential run was merely a threat and numbers of black victims in police shootings continued to rise. In 2017, AFROPUNK remains a precious and all too rare reminder of the overwhelmingly positive and significant impact of black culture on society that shapes our everyday experiences in music, art, fashion and self-expression. Without black music, Jazz Standard wouldn’t exist.
It’s unusual to see a festival crowd this united with a musical line-up so diverse. However in the context of AFROPUNK, it all makes sense. On Saturday, London’s homegrown stood out. Proceeding East London grime artist JME and American rapper Danny Brown, a “mad nervous” Little Simz played a set that served another reminder as to how much we should be embracing the Islington musician. It was a colourful performance painted by fuzzy guitars, trumpet and a DJ; respect to Simz for restarting a track with double impact when it didn’t drop quite as planned. Trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey delivered on several tracks including a soaring display on Wings. Later that night, The Internet performed an animated collective-focused set, drawing on recent releases from guitarist Steve Lacy as well as back catalogue tunes and popular hits.
On Sunday, NAO performed a confident, sensual set that drew a large crowd. Unfortunately, Thundercat struggled. For an artist so talented at writing melodic and danceable hooks, it’s a curiosity as to why almost every song featured several minutes of superfluous soloing. What Thundercat couldn’t control however was the sound, which was AFROPUNKS’s only struggle of the weekend; several people were spotted with fingers in their ears during the set as the speakers fuzzed noisily throughout. It didn’t affect the impact of drummer Ronald Bruner Jr however—who shined with his incredible fills and fierce drive—perhaps a little brighter than his brother on this occasion.
Willow—one of two AFROPUNK London headliners—walked out with her electric guitar, announcing that she had tackled an ‘existential crisis’ to make it to the stage. She performed a selection of tracks from her 6 year discography featuring up and coming artists. Her guest Tyler Cole—before performing BLOW UP YOUR TV!—announced that it was an honour to play rock music in front of the predominantly black audience. Whilst it wasn’t a total surprise to spot her parents Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith in the audience, a certain song selection was; a grungy rework of her debut single Whip My Hair. The track appeared in many ‘worst song’ lists and she was rumoured at the time to be removing herself from the track that she released on the eve of her tenth birthday. However, at the age of 16, in front of an adult audience who owned their identity and self-expression, she owned hers. And she rocked it.
JS | Tina Edwards