Looking back at the six days of black brilliance that was Afropunk: The Brixton Takeover
This year’s Afropunk London was a true embodiment of the organisation’s inclusive spirit of community, activism and empowerment. Instead of a one-day party, it took over Brixton for a week of rebel rousing, multidisciplinary events. Proceedings kicked off with an exhibition and zine launch at the 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning gallery featuring emerging artists and writers in association with Tate Britain. Looking at London’s past and present as a site of dualities, the project brought together many urgent and open expressions of resistance. Highlights included Alexander Ikhide’s regal self-portraits reflecting on identity and the politics of looking, Elise Rose’s photographic series of black punks in the diaspora, and Estee Blu’s witty piece, ‘The Black Girl Guide To Staying Alive - seven practical self-care tips to navigate this crazy thing called life and not lose your precious mind!’
Throughout the week, thoughtful talks on subjects including entrepreneurship, media, masculinity and beauty took place at The Department Store, which heard from voices including Kwame Kwei-Armah, Ekow Eshun, Sharmadean Reid and Lakwena Maciver. Meanwhile over at the Black Cultural Archives, leading poetry organisation Apples And Snakes hosted an intimate evening of spoken word. Twelve talents lined up to entertain the attentive audience including Hackney’s Zena Edwards, who for one poem adopted the persona of a weather girl with attitude to forecast the looming storm of Trumpism, and then enticed us with the joys of laughing out loud with reggae.
Young Manchester-based artist Isaiah Hull took no prisoners with his raw and visceral words from his upcoming book, Nosebleeds, his flow owing as much to Saul Williams as Skepta. Meanwhile the legendary Roger Robinson took us back to his days growing up in Ilford when dub parties provided “bassline therapy to collective grief”. He also shared lessons on how to battle the internal conflicts that result in screw face, and closed with a piece dedicated to Grenfell and those poor souls that have travelled from “the city of the missing” to “the city of the gods”.
Over the road at Electric Brixton, Friday night became a club experience where old school legends DJ Spoony and Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B went up against new kids on the block, BBZ, Born N Bread and Recess. Afropunk fans turned up in force to enjoy everything from classic garage to future R&B and create pure, positive energies on the hot and sweaty dancefloor.
Then came the big one at Brixton’s O2 Academy on Saturday, which begun raucously thanks to an energetic set from Bob Vylan - the winner of Afropunk’s Battle of the Bands gig at Pop Brixton earlier in the week. They were followed by north Londoner Bakar who softened the mood ever so slightly with his alternative sounds. Like Madlib meets King Krule, this quietly confident front man delivered his emotive, insistent lyrics about life’s strife over tender guitars and tropical keyboards with singles ‘Big Dreams’ and ‘Million Miles’ hitting all the right and tingly notes.
Afropunk stalwart Akala brought his songs of revolution into the mix, accompanied by videos featuring his politically charged graphics and powerful lyrics. This encouraged everyone to shout-a-long with the hip hop storyteller to his sonic comic book ‘Visions’, which took us from the griots to Tupac, as well as the kung fu kicking song ‘Sun Tzu’ and his bona fide anthem, ‘Malcolm Said It’. A DJ set from Shabba then unashamedly rolled out the big tunes – Luniz’ ‘I Got 5 On It’ and The Fugee’s ‘Ready Or Not’ included – to hype the crowd nicely for headliners August Greene.
Not that hype was necessary. As soon as the new supergroup made up of Common, Robert Glasper and Kariem Riggins came into view for their UK debut, it was game on. Framing their set as a musical celebration of “Black brilliance,” Common lived up to his sizable reputation as a consummate performer by wooing the crowd with shout outs to London and his jazz-fuelled, conscious rhymes. The band came out strong with single ‘Black Kennedy’, paid tribute to J Dilla on ‘Let Go’, and were also joined by special guest Laura Mvula for two soulful tracks. But Mvula wasn’t the only Black Girl Magic moment. At the height of the show, Common chose a young woman from the audience to join him on stage and proceeded to serenade her softly while she took shy selfies with her gentlemanly hero. Finally he jumped over the crash barriers and into the crowd so that everyone could enjoy some up close time with this grown star as he played out Afropunk with considerable aplomb.
Published on 14/09/2018