Brooklyn audio pageant Afropunk returns to its roots in Fort Greene

After sitting out two years because of the pandemic, Afropunk returned to New York City for its Brooklyn edition over the weekend of Sept. 10 and 11. For two days through sunshine and rainfall, artists spanning rap, rock, alternative R&B, and Afrobeats converged in Fort Greene’s Commodore Barry Park, where they performed in front of a crowd estimated at almost 10,000 people each day, according to a festival spokesperson. Many who attended hailed its return, saying it provided a place for Black expression in all forms.

“This is where Afropunk is now: It’s still a safe space for black people of all creeds of the diaspora to pull up and be together and fellowship,” said Isaac Campbell, who DJs under the stage name MoreSoupPlease. Campbell was originally a photographer for Afropunk years ago before realizing he could also pursue one of his other passions: music.

Campbell, who’d played the cello for years, began looking into DJing. His performance at Afropunk on Saturday was his first-ever festival appearance — and a place to find and build a supportive audience.

“This is a Black space of allies, and we come here to do us,” Campbell said.

The Afropunk audience. A spokesperson for the festival said that nearly 10,000 audience members attended each day.

Photo by Afropunk/Brandon Todd

Co-founded by James Spooner, Afropunk the festival spun out of a DIY documentary, “Afro-punk,” which Spooner made to examine what it was like to be the only Black kid at a punk show.

“I wasn’t seeing myself represented at all in the subcultures I was attracted to, and I really wanted to ask some question about why that was,” Spooner told The Fader in 2015. “ By the time the film came out in 2003, [there] wasn’t really a lot of room for Black kids who wanted to do anything outside of pop bottles.”

After a run of screenings around the country, Spooner and Matthew Morgan launched the music festival in 2005 with shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and punk club CBGB. It now takes place in Fort Greene’s Commodore Barry Park. Over the years, the event grew beyond New York City to mount events throughout the country and around the globe. Artists like Jaden Smith, SZA, and D’Angelo and The Vanguard have performed electrifying sets in the past. Philadelphia hip-hop crew The Roots and fast-rising Nigerian superstar Burna Boy headlined this year’s festival, which also offered fashion and wellness components.

R&B singer Lucky Daye. The performer sang on a rainy Sunday night before a final set by headliner Burna Boy.

Photo by Afropunk/Nick Watkin

Afropunk’s ambitious expansion plans continue. In November, the festival will bring the entertainment to Brazil, and next February Afropunk will collaborate with Lincoln Center to bring in Black women creators from around the world for a weekend of programming.

But even if Afropunk isn’t explicitly punk anymore, festivalgoers say it remains a place to foster community among Black people. Arisha Clark, a 24-year-old youth advocate, said this was their first time at the event.

“I’ve been sheltered my whole life,” Clark said. “So it feels good to now enter a space where I can actually be my full self. As me being Black, as me being a femme, and as me being queer, and knowing that I wasn’t able to go into certain spaces comfortably and be myself, I could literally just let loose and have a good time.”

Although Afropunk has expanded far beyond its indie-punk origin, it continues pursue a mission of centering Blackness.

Photo by Afropunk/Brandon Todd

Mfrie Imoh, 36, held down the fort at her brother’s vendor tent, where she was helping him sell his African print-inspired clothing. She’s been coming to the festival since 2015, and said she’s discovered something new each time.

“It’s always great to see Black people doing Black people stuff, and being Nigerian myself and having the diaspora African culture being here and showing what it is and what it looks like — that’s always great,” Imoh said. “That’s my experience every single time. I learn something new. I see something different. I’m chilled out, vibed out, and enjoying being in my Blackness.”