As media partner, here’s our
blow-by-blow review of the epic
day that was Afropunk London
“Right. Who’s ready to party?” MNEK asked a somewhat rhetorically to a turned up audience who had been flooding into Alexandra Palace since lunchtime. As the first, and much-anticipated Afropunk in London – something of a spiritual homecoming both for the music it promotes and organisers behind it – this festival was destined to attract a feel good, well-dressed, truly diverse crowd with its messages of inclusivity (No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness.) and all killer, no filler line-up.
Punks, skaters, peacocks, ravers, dandies – you name it, every flavour of music fan came out in out in force. One dapper dude sauntered past wearing two red hats, another tracksuited boy sported a high white and blue Afro Kid ‘n’ Play would’ve been proud of. Two girls in matching animal print leotards whipped out their hula-hoops. “It’s about positivity, artists immersed and being proud of themselves, and just everything I love about black culture,” said 17-year-old NK OK, one such early bird through the door. Fellow festivalgoer Dwain Ahawn Hendrix, also 17, agreed: “It represents individuality, freedom, power, revolution. Afropunk feels like family to me.”
And if anyone could get this discerning audience moving, it was MNEK, whose writing and production credits include Kylie, Rudimental and Beyoncé. With a little help from two sassy backing singers, he performed a megamix of the hits he’s had a hand in making with a healthy dose of filthy house on top. Londoner Karim Ameen also shared the party starting duties with his jump up “world changer” raps, as did Nova Twins, whose sparse basslines actually blew an amp during their raw rock anthem Twitch. Impressive.
Brummie songstress Jorja Smith soothed the mood and her short, sweet songs of love, fear and long summer days, such as her critically received single Blue Lights. Purple Ferdinand also mesmerised with her folky slow jams including her Afropunk-debuted, uplifting track Courage.
With three stages, a relentless schedule of sound, and VIP bar where Nataal’s favourite radio station NTS held court, there was a surprise around every corner. VŌDŪN emerged, as if from a mythical dimension, smeared in facepaint and swathed in wax prints. This pagan metal threesome summoned up spirits with their psych guitars, unrelenting drums and front woman Oya’s powerful howls.
No less fiery, Lady Leshurr didn’t hold back on her infamous Queen's speeches. The UK’s rising first lady of grime slayed her imagined competition with dis after dis: “All these girls are really hating / When their lips look like crispy bacon.” But she ended her set with an uplifting call for everyone to raise our fists in the air and “Chase the Dream”, just like she did.
"It represents individuality, freedom, power, revolution. Afropunk feels like family to me"
GoldLink achieved a full room bounce with his set of hip hop classics and latest rhymes (read our interview with DC rapper here). Meanwhile UK super group Word Power Sound featuring Akala, Dreadzone and Don Letts showed just why they are part of the AP family. Akala led the way with his conscious song Malcolm Said It, turning it into an emotive call and response: ‘Martin said it / Marley said it / Ali said it / Garvey said it / If you ain't found something to die for, you'll never live.’
Potty-mouthed LGBT rapper Cakes da Killa hailed himself a “booty queen” before launching into 30 minutes of giggles and jiggles. New track Up Out Of My Face turned the air blue with its four letter words and stabbing synths.
Loyle Carner delivered his honest take on UK hip hop set including his hit Ain’t Nothing Changed. The young south London talent won hearts by reciting a poem dedicated to his mother. Speaking of which, SZA marked her first ever-British gig by bringing her mother along for the ride and informed us that they’d taken a trip to Buckingham Palace on route. Boasting the best hair of the day, the alt.R&B star received cheers for reminding us that “bad shit happens all over the world but don’t doubt the power of positivity.”
Shingai from Noisettes appeared on stage as if a rock & roll mermaid in an iridescent waistcoat with long flailing fringes. Taking her heels off during the first song to play them like castanets, she then stage dived into a sea of hands for Atticus. The band’s new song Champion Style channelled Zimbabwean disco while Savages drummer Faye Milton joined them for the last track Never Forget You.
Kwabs arrested Afropunk with a voice you could fall into; so deeply warm was its resonance. Hands swayed to his goose bump inducing hit Walk. Young Fathers put in perhaps the most intense performance of the day. Dark, serious and minimal, the trio’s voices chimed with pain and redemption. Alloysious looked louche in a crushed velvet suit beating his drum and Kayus sweated and sparkled as he danced like no one was watching, leaving G to create eerie organ and siren wails.
Laura Mvula won best instrument award with a white keytar and harp elevating her stage game to the next level. Dedicating her beautiful performance to “My idol Nina Simone,” Mvula departed, meaning it was finally time for the headline act. Ladies and gentleman, Miss Grace Jones. Having already stolen the show at Afropunk Brooklyn 2015 (read Nataal’s review here) the living legend returned with her outlandish outfits and even more outlandish behaviour to bring the evening home. Growling on all fours and shaking her golden mane, donning a skull mask, kicking cymbals to the floor and revealing her barely disguised nakedness (bar some clever body paint), hers was a fitting end to this joyous, liberating day.
Photography Visual Marvelry
Additional reporting Nosmot Gbadamosi