Afropunk Brooklyn music fest-turned-global-Black-cultural-experience returned to Commodore Barry Park this past weekend after spending the last two years running programs virtually during COVID protocols.
Maybe it was the lineup. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was the new management or, perhaps, an overall shift in energy as participants newly recover from the trauma of COVID. Whatever the reasons might have been, many things about the festival this year made it decidedly different than the Afropunk festivals in the past.
Let’s talk about it, but let’s first focus on all the best parts, starting with the people!
Festival goers from across the globe descended upon Fort Greene’s Commodore Barry Park on both Saturday and Sunday to immerse themselves in art, community and of course the music. The eclectic lineup included acts like The Roots, Burna Boy, Lucky Daye, Freddie Gibbs, Isaiah Rashad, Doechii, and more. Fans and artists alike embraced the electric energy one could only experience live and in person.
Ray Angry aka Mr. Goldfinger of the legendary band The Roots, was one artist who had been waiting on this moment to perform at home in his city: “Brooklyn is my headquarters, it’s where I sharpen my tools and connect with other creatives,” Angry said. Ray along with his fellow band members kept the crowd moving and begging for more.
“Brooklyn is the gateway to the world,” he said. “This is where I wrote a lot of incredible records and collaborations – I love my city!”
Headliner Burna Boy was another crowd favorite as they sang along his “Last Last” song lyrics in Sunday’s nightfall rain. Festival goer, Marcus Carroll shares, “Burna left an experience that has left me speechless! Like my entire heart is full!”
Self-expression and acceptance remain key tenets of the festival, inspiring one-of-a-kind looks you’ll see in the colorful crowd of feathers, glitz and leather. First-timers and seasoned vets welcomed the chance to feel seen and heard.
Afropunk vendors– Brooklyn small business owners widely impacted by the pandemic– also shared gratitude for being able to re-engage their community and sell their goods. The festival returned with vendors from local food spots such as Aunts et Uncles, Bed-Vyne, and a wellness area dedicated to self-care and community health.
Cameron Hinds, coordinator at Kehinde Wiley Studio in Brooklyn shares how art and accessibility matters in this space: “It’s about fellowship,” Hinds said, “even if you just stop by and it’s a conversation about art. It opens up further conversations to art and the people.”
All Ways Black, “AfroPunk Rock N Read” booth brought books to the AFROPUNK party, with titles including Scenes from My Life the memoir on the late, Brooklyn icon and awarded actor Michael K. Williams.
Cree Miles, book influencer teamed up with Penguin Random House Publishing to create the digital platform dedicated to amplifying the stories and voices of black authors.
“It is crucial to be here, this is All Ways Black’s community,” Miles said. “We are a digital platform so we’re usually engaging with people over the internet but to have IRL [in real life] connections with people on the ground with their authors, there’s nothing like it.”
However, the festival encountered its fair share of hiccups that weren’t a crowd pleaser: From a somewhat chaotic box office, to the fragmented layout of the food vendors, to what many Afropunk holdouts this year claimed was a lackluster lineup, it was definitely reflected in the overall energy, feedback. … and attendance, which was visibly much thinner: “I’m a big Roots fan,” said one Coney Island resident who decided not to attend this year for the first time after years. “But we’ve see them every night on t.v., and they’ve been touring for years ad nauseum. … Aside from Burna Boy, there were no real attractive headliners. The choices seemed a little lazy, in my opinion.”
However, many others were thrilled to see the festival’s return, chalking the bumps up as learning curves as the festival transitions back to in-person and under new management.
One Brooklyn couple attending the festival for the fourth time was adorned in repurposed flowers from their spring wedding as a way to “represent their love.” Charlene Lewis, the wife of the duo said, “I missed being around my people, just being around so much love and acceptance.”
And Burna Boy’s performance, in the middle of the rain, was definitely one for the record books. Just ask anyone who attended, and they’ll tell you. The rain served to galvanize and unify the crowd more than anything, as an energy of pure love and joyous Afro-roots and rhythm took over park for one entire hour.
“This was definitely the performance of the summer! Such a vibe,” said Sonya Magett, a Fort Greene Resident. “Burna Boy is the Michael Jackson of Africa right now. And this concert just made my entire summer!”
Whether you loved or loathed Afropunk Brooklyn 2022, one thing is for certain: Many things may change about the festival … but its foundation— the talent, the love, THE CULTURE— will always be Black excellence.