A Backstage Look at Afropunk Festival 2016

A Backstage Look at Afropunk Festival 2016

Exclusive moments and portraits of the artists who brought down the house at Brooklyn's music festival

Exclusive moments and portraits of the artists who brought down the house at Brooklyn's music festival

Photography: Elijah Dominique


Over the weekend, Afropunk Festival invaded the grounds of Commodore Barry Park, its warriors drenched in colorful prints and bantu knots that rested on top of their heads like crowns.

The annual two-day music, arts, and culture festival has served as a creative incubator for Black musicians across all genres from Punk Rock to Jazz, selectively curated to bespeak the wide diversity of Black culture. During this time, a whimsical spirit cast down upon Brooklyn, a sacred time for the people Langston Hughes refers to as “The Dream Keepers;” the musicians, vendors, staff, and fans dedicated to preserving acceptance across racial, gender, and sexual boundaries, even if only for two days (a big sign above the portable restrooms read: “this bathroom has been liberated from the gender binary”). In this way, Afropunk functions beyond the scope of traditional festivals in taking a social and political stand, while exulting the same amount of fun, excitement, and fashion forward civilians.

Upon entering the festival, a sense of warmth is blanketed upon festivalgoers. The jerk spices, incents fumes, and guitar strings commingling, feeding multiple senses at once. The lineup up was a solid balance between developing and established entertainers, many of whom would not be played on the same radio station (if played on the radio at all). Tyler the Creator, Flying Lotus, Saul Williams, Laura Mvula, Janelle Monae, and the legendary Ice Cube (accompanied by a life-changing surprise appearance by members of N.W.A.) each graced 1 of 3 stages, putting on a show unlike any other. Sporadic dancing was contagious on the line of bathrooms and food trucks as horns and drums floated from one stage to the other.

For those lucky enough to stand above the average height of 5’5”, the stage was the main attraction, but for the majority of those who didn’t make the height requirements (the stages could’ve been a few inches taller) and decided to avoid peeking through gaps between elbows, the shops, festival style, and food vendors were suitable secondary distractions. An intermingling of cultures, races, and ethnicities made for thoughtful friendly conversations, shared blankets, and a sincere exchange of compliments. For the 11th year, Afropunk Festival made it possible for attendees to dream with eyes wide open to the possibilities of liberation, freedom, and equality festivals like this can mend.

Click through the slideshow below to see exclusive portraits of the artists at this year's festival.



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