Africa. The democratisation of storytelling platforms has made it easier for us to start to change the narrative and, as a result, the world is finally starting to get a sense of who we are, our cultures and the evolution of those cultures. The creative industries have an important part to play, not only in driving our economies forward but in also driving tourism.
And what better way to start experiencing the diverse beauty of our continent than through the many festivals that take place throughout the year. You could literally build a travel itinerary by jumping from city to city and country to country, following the music, the literature, the art and the culture.
AFROPUNK works with local partners, engages with local vendors and talks to members of the local community to ensure that the festival resonates wherever it goes.
He stands at the centre of the stage, gripping the microphone in both hands, as if to force it to project his words into the minds of the melee before him. They, in turn, reach to the sky, drowning in the word, heads bobbing in synch to his words and the wonderful musical cacophony behind him, delivered by Dragons of Zynth. He is Saul Williams. The band is an indie rock band from Cleveland, USA, made up of Aku, Akwetey, J. Bernard and Matthew Davidson. This is AFROPUNK 2013 in Brooklyn, New York.
AFROPUNK is a cultural movement with music at its core. Its website says: “AFROPUNK is defining culture by the collective creative actions of the individual and the group. It is a safe place, a blank space to freak out in, to construct a new reality, to live your life as you see fit, while making sense of the world around you.”
In an interview before hitting the stage, Williams said: “At the end of the day, it’s really just music. Music done by musicians… who really don’t buy into conformity, or having to fit themselves into boxes that are readily defined… it’s about just exploring originality…”
AFROPUNK Festival was born out of a documentary, Afro-punk, shot by James Spooner, in which he delved in punk rock and the alternative indie rock scene, particularly from a black perspective. The idea that certain music is only for certain people is one that had been driven by the music industry for decades, but the reality has often been very different – and this is what Spooner was tapping into. With a positive response to the film, the AFROPUNK website was created primarily as a message board. Out of this, in 2005, Matthew Morgan founded AFROPUNK Festival, with the first being held in Brooklyn, and which Spooner was part of for the first couple of years.
Since that first festival, Morgan says, “It, and the movement around it, has changed significantly in some ways, and not at all in others. In essence, we are still fighting for the right to be whoever we want to be; there are 360 degrees of blackness.”
Morgan describes putting together AFROPUNK as being “like making any good meal, something that synthesises the mind and body”. He is responsible for curating the music experience with his partner, Jocelyn Cooper, but the movement is about more than just music, although the music is an important component. In Morgan’s words, the elements of Afropunk are:
- “Music, obviously, but not any genre of music. Although the documentary documented the lives of young black punk rockers, what is important to me is the spirit of AFROPUNK redefined by the black experience, not a black version of white punk rock, which is a popular misconception. The words of the mighty Chuck D, ‘Our heroes don’t appear on no stamps’ – meaning Grace Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Miles Davis, Spike Lee, Bootsy Collins, Malcolm X, etc. Individuals that changed our perception of blackness; went left when everyone went right. AFROPUNK is a spirit, not a music genre.
- Food, because we like to eat. It’s important to us to expose our food vendors to our audience, and vice versa.
- The Spin Thrift market is at the centre of AFROPUNK. It’s where we build community; where we are supportive and nourished through our market. We come together around our markets, which is why they arelways at the centre of our communities.
- Art & Times, like music, is part of the mission to celebrate our artists, to give them a platform to express themselves. Our creativeness is not one dimensional. Visual arts, poetry, etc. are all part of our culture, and it’s important that the community recognises how important all the arts are to our culture.”
In 2015, AFROPUNK expanded to Atlanta, and the following year to London and Paris. On 30-31 December 2017, AFROPUNK will be held on the African continent for the first time, in Johannesburg. For Morgan, the expansion was a no-brainer: “AFROPUNK began as an online community, so we knew pretty much right away that there were people all over the world who felt kinship with the energy and viewpoint of the festival, but who could not necessarily join us in Brooklyn. The idea of coming and establishing an event like this in their community with them was always a goal – whether we would have the resources to do it was another matter.”
He goes on to say that “we knew the audience and the excitement was there [in Johannesburg], because of the engagement on the site. But more importantly, the excitement around the music being made in SA, the conversations happening in the SA community and how it is culturally translating to the rest of the world felt very comfortable as the first place in Africa where AFROPUNK could happen.”
Community and solidarity with “people who look like you and maybe even think like you (at least some of the time), access and interaction to people all over the globe, seeing that your worries and your passions and your expectations are not your alone, that there are others who feel like you do” is at the heart of AFROPUNK’s mission.
AFROPUNK works with local partners, engages with local vendors and talks to members of the local community to ensure that the festival resonates wherever it goes, and is in tune with the local perspective. Morgan explains that “they’re the ones that actually make AFROPUNK a global community”.
And, when it comes to determining the line-up, it is about drawing from local insight and international experience. “It is a balance that is hard to put into exact words – our own interests of presenting artists + artists who wanted to come with us to Joburg + artists who the South African members of the community wanted to see. This is the way it always works, it’s organic that way.”
At time of publishing, artists on the bill include Solange, Anderson .Paak, King Tha vs Blk Jks, Laura Mvula, Nakhane, Black Motion, The Brother Moves On, Theo Parrish, Spoek Mathambo, Urban Village, and God Sons and Daughter, among others.
Beyond the festival, AFROPUNK also has a social responsibility arm, the AFROPUNK Global Initiative, which is core to the organisation’s being and mission, and is where the actual give-back to the AFROPUNK community happens. A few of the organisations it has worked with are Color of Change, Aids Health Foundation, Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood.
Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, Johannesburg, South Africa
It has been 20 years since T-Musicman launched the first ever Joy of Jazz and, in these two decades, it has become a perennial and the leading jazz festival on the African continent. Offering a wonderfully curated mix of international, African and South African jazz musicians, it also serves as a great way to discover South Africa’s economic and cultural hub, Johannesburg.
Taking place over three days on four stages at the Sandton Convention Centre from 28 to 30 September, this year’s milestone incarnation features a veritable musical who’s who including Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman and his quartet, The Clayton Brothers, Abdullah Ibrahim, Thandiswa Mazwai, the Belede Jazz Project (featuring Nduduzo Makhathini, Herbie Tsoaeli, Ayanda Sikade and Mthunzi Mvubu), Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya, Ramsey Lewis versus Roy Ayers, Nnenna Freelon, Zoe Modiga, Salif Keita, Peter Beets, Somi, Tsepo Tshola, Maleh, Bhudaza Mapefane, Elisabeth Kontomanou, Benjamin Jephta, Christian McBride and Musiq Soulchild.
Vic Falls Carnival, Zimbabwe
The Vic Falls Carnival, which will take place from 29 December 2017 to 1 January 2018, is the evolution of the Falls Fest, which was first held in 2009. Taking advantage of the magical setting that is Mosi-oa-Tunya – from the falls themselves to the national park – it is broken down into the African Carnival Train, which travels through and stops within the park; the Community Party, with live music and DJs; and the Unity Concert, which is the countdown into the new year, during which you are encouraged to represent your home country.
This year’s lineup is said to include Black Coffee, DJ Jason Le Roux, The Kiffness, Tresor, Mampi and Vic Falls’ Flying Bantu. In between the music, you can explore the full range of activities available including bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and elephant-back safaris.
Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar
Zanzibar’s Stone Town, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, serves as the home for the Sauti za Busara African music festival, the 15th edition of which is taking place at the Old Fort from 8 to 11 February 2018.
Past festivals have had up to 40 bands and musicians sharing their music on multiple stages to an audience that is increasingly made up of people from around the world. A significant portion of those musicians are local musicians, ensuring that they get the opportunity not only to perform for their fellow “locals”, but also to do so to an audience that can carry their music beyond the confines of the island.
MTN Bushfire, Swaziland
Talk to anyone who has been to MTN Bushfire in Swaziland and you get the sense that it is more than just a music festival – it is a pilgrimage. The world descends on Swaziland – camping, glamping and dancing to a diverse lineup of musicians. In 2017, everyone from Hugh Masekela, TKZee and Jah Prayzah to Jojo Abot, Trenton and Free Radical and Jeremy Loops performed across four stages. Three local bands also won the opportunity to perform.
There is the Handcraft & Design Marketplace and the Global Food Village to feed all your senses, as well as the Bushfire Kidzone, which has creative and play activities for the kids.
In 2018, MTN Bushfire is going down 25-27 May.
Chale Wote, Accra, Ghana
In 2011, a collective of multidisciplinary artists came together as ACCRA[DOT]ALT to establish the first-ever Chale Wote Festival, rooted in Jamestown, one of Accra’s oldest neighbourhoods. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it is firmly centred in Afrocentrism, of which author Ytasha Womack said: “Afrofuturism stretches the imagination far beyond the conventions of our time and the horizons of expectation, and kicks the box of normalcy and preconceived ideas of blackness out of the solar system. Whether it’s sci-fi storylines or radical eccentricity, Afrofuturism inverts reality.”
The festival takes place in August every year, pulling an estimated 10 000 people, who experience an array of arts and culture initiatives including block parties, exhibitions, installations, street art, fashion, film and extreme sports, as well as a marketplace. While the 2017 edition has just passed, it gives you a year to plan your trip to Ghana.