Afropunk Fosters Diversity in the Festival Circuit

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

Afropunk started out as a 2003 documentary about African-Americans and people of African descent participating in the punk and alternative music cultures. In 2005, The Afropunk Music Festival was founded by the documentary director James Spooner and co-producer Matthew Morgan. The growing annual festival features fashion, art, culture, film, positive messages of social justice and inclusion, and a wide variety of music performed predominately by people of African decent.

I attended the festival for the first time in Brooklyn in August 2016. The festival lasted two days and the weekend general admission tickets were really affordable at around $100. The festival also allows attendees to either pay for their tickets or volunteer through a number of outlets in exchange for free entry. I stayed in an Airbnb in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was way cheaper than a hotel and took public transportation to and from the festival site at Commodore Barry Park.

Afropunk has three stages that all feature artists simultaneously. If there was a complaint to be had, it was about the setup. There was a lot of sound bleeding between the stages. This could be very distracting when the artist you are trying to watch is performing a heartfelt ballad and the guitarist in a punk band is shredding not very far away. Another grievance was that attendees couldn’t bring food or drinks other than one container of water, which was problematic because the food choices at the festival were very limited, and the lines were extremely long.

One thing that I loved about the festival were the diverse styles of music that one could stumble upon. While waiting for one of the bigger headliners, I watched a really awesome, young punk band called Radkey who had fantastic energy, stage presence, and fun songs. I also enjoyed that there was never a break at any stage because as soon as an artist was done performing a DJ would take their place and spin a great set until the next act. Some of the bigger names I saw were Janelle Monáe, CeeLo Green, Flying Lotus, Laura Mvula, and up and coming artists like Seinabo Sey, Kelela, and Gallant.

Photo: Tyler Joe for

In addition to the music, I constantly saw gorgeous hairstyles and really unique outfits on other festivalgoers. This fashion forward aspect of the festival is well known because photos of the festival attendees end up on popular blogs, websites, and go viral on social media. Vendors also sell beautiful West African-inspired clothes, jewelry, and accessories.

This year, the Afropunk festival will be happening in Paris (July 15 & 16), London (July 22 & 23), Brooklyn (August 26 & 27), Atlanta (October 14 & 15), and Johannesburg (December 30 & 31). All of the lineups are featuring some fantastic artists, with the newest city, Johannesburg, already featuring artists such as Solange, Anderson.Paak, and Laura Mvula.

If you are looking for a unique festival experience that is less expensive and way more diverse than festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo you should definitely get a ticket to Afropunk. The festival is a great way to discover new artists and explore different genres all at once. It is also a great way to support the Afropunk movement and rally behind positive black representation.


About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting