Last weekend Afropunk held its first event in the UK, and if you’ve not heard of Afropunk, there are many, many reasons why you should. Founded in Brooklyn in 2005 – and taking its name from a 2003 documentary that looked at the black experience in the largely white world of punk – it has since become one of the most important events on the American festival calendar, and its arrival in London couldn’t have come soon enough.
At a time when sexism, racism, homophobia and assault are all too common at gig venues and music events, Afropunk’s message is loud and clear. “No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness,” read the massive signs flanking the main stage at Alexandra Place, on which the majestic and mostly naked disco queen Grace Jones headlines at the end of a day which also sees sets from grime MC and NME cover star Lady Leshurr, Mercury Prize winning hip-hop act Young Fathers and neo-soul singer-songwriter SZA.
A celebration of diversity, Afropunk’s anti-racism stance seems particularly pertinent in the wake of a recent article written by music publicist and all round excellent person Michelle Kambasha for The Guardian, entitled Why I belong as a black woman in the white world of indie, which detailed the “white micro-aggressions” she constantly faces at gigs. “Feeling safe and accepted is something that should be afforded to everyone, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case,” Michelle told me of her reasons for writing the piece. “As a black female growing up loving indie and rock music, I can remember the first time I heard about Afropunk – it was a feeling that there were people out there that looked like me. A feeling of validation and vindication, of safety and acceptance.”
Afropunk’s commitment to anti-sexism is refreshing too, especially following recent Metropolitan Police statistics which revealed that between 2011 and March of this year reports of rape in London clubs, bars and pubs have risen by 136 per cent, while sexual assault in venues in the capital has more than doubled. Kicking against this is Girls Against, a group of teenagers who last year set up a campaign to end sexual harassment at gigs after one of their number was groped by a male crowd member at a Peace gig in Glasgow, but Afropunk is the first major event to actively take a stand against such assaults.
Not only is Afropunk vibrantly political and anti all forms of nastiness, it’s also one hell of a good day out, with great, important artists, brilliant music, thought-provoking art and exceptionally decent food. A celebration of individuality, but also of collective power, here’s to its imminent return in the UK – and the hope that other festivals, events, venues and gigs, take on board its powerful message.