At what point is art considered so esoteric, it becomes inaccessible to the masses?

That was my initial thought upon entering the Afropunk Fest this past weekend in Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park. I walked in and was submerged immediately in a sea of esoterica: superhero costumes; women in 10-inch platforms, cheek piercings and leather swimsuits; bearded men in yellow ribbons and sheer nightgowns. Let’s just suffice to say, Afropunk is officially OUT there!

Discrimination of any kind has long been jettisoned from the festival (they’ve even added a “NO Trumpism” to their official ethos). But how much room does that leave for, say, the “average Joe,” just looking to catch a cool cultural vibe and a dope alternative show?

Now in its 14th year, let’s take a look at where Afropunk is, in 2019.

Gary Clark, Jr.
Photo: BK Reader

This year’s lineup of headliners was strong, including Jill Scott, Gary Clark, Jr., Leon Bridges, Brittany Howard, NAO and FKA Twigs. But what was stronger, in my opinion, was the choice of “lesser-known” acts (rather, less radio play) that attract the true music heads. These acts were the sizzlers you’ll be hearing from soon in a big way– if you haven’t already– including Masego, Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, Fire From the Gods and Leikeli 47!

There also seemed to be a shift in this year’s festival… It felt like Afropunk had taken a couple of steps back– closer to its more undemanding, carefree vibe of the 2010s, with the addition of more African (from Africa) artists and DJs. There was a little bit of everything for everyone and not too much anything for any one.

What also was better this year was the crowd size. Whether it was deliberate or the result of fewer ticket sales, I’m not sure. But it was definitely less crowded and less overrun with the 16- to 21-year-olds you normally have to navigate around as they take numerous selfies.

Instead, there appeared to be a greater diversity of age groups, along with enough space to flow and shop at your leisure, or absorb the visual art. Most notably, there was enough room to comfortably move from one stage to the next in ample time to throw out a blanket and enjoy the performances without fear of being trampled while standing or sitting. 

Photo: BK Reader

Also, the music acts on virtually every stage pulled off an amazing performance. Whether you were checking out the world jazz sounds of saxophonist Kamasi Washington or the hard-hitting lyrics of Brooklyn rapper Leikeli 47 on the gold stage, or soaking in the powerful and soothing sounds of Jill Scott on the green stage (reminding us she’s still the queen), or the psychedelic rapper/songstress Tierra Whack, who’s just in a class of her own, on the red state–  every act gave 110 percent. In fact, you could have ventured into any given stage area at Afropunk without first knowing the artist and walk away a new fan. 

The sound system and audiovisuals were, as always, top notch! The energy surrounding the festival was electric and arousing, intoxicating first-timers of any age like taking that first adult drink.

“I just love the energy and different styles. People are just like all the way in! This is so dope,” said Linet Ngete, 38, a first-time festival-goer who is from Kenya and lives in Seattle, Washington.

Bkay, 21, traveled from Worcester, Massachusetts to see the festival for the first time:  “It’s pretty dope. I loved Tierra Whack. My only thing is I wish there was more trap music. If there was a little bit more of that, it’d be perfect, but it’s still great!”

Roxy Ogunmanola and Linet Ngete, attending Afropunk Fest for the first time
Photo: BK Reader

Ngete’s best friend, Roxy Ogunmanola, 37, was attending the festival, also for the first time: “We just got here, and already we’ve met so many people. Everybody here is just so welcoming; it’s just so much fun,” said Ognumanola, who is from Nigeria and resides in California. 

And of course, there were enough stunningly beautiful, melanated people of all shapes, sizes and ages to overwhelm the senses. Whether it was your first or fourteenth time attending Afropunk festival, witnessing the color, creativity and couture of the participants and the performers will inspire your own desires to freely express, no matter your age, ethnicity, income or gender.

From the frivolous to the flamboyant; the gorgeous to the mildly grotesque, Afropunkers showed up and showed out in the name of the one thing that binds us all: music!  

So at what point does Afropunk become so esoteric, it is inaccessible to the masses? The answer is never. Afropunk always has been and always will be accessible to anyone, free of judgment.

In fact, that person donning those purple pasties, a crown of flowers and pink cowboy boots… that person, back at their home in Cleveland just might be that “Average Joe” rocking the khakis or a suit and tie.

But that average Joe knows that at Afropunk, they will always be welcomed to show up, show out and self-express … or simply just be.

To see more of this year’s photos, click here!

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