The 2017 edition of Afropunk outdid itself. A melding of the aesthetic with the political, we, the people were unified as one unadulterated war cry.

The premise of this year’s piece was already set – Afropunk’s very existence grants the event trailblazing status. However, this year it returned with an elemental quality that galvanised its people; music and art became a mode of expression. A vehicle of resistance.

And why shouldn’t it be? We are in a state of uncertainty. There’s grievances over Grenfell, paranoia and pointed fingers spawned by terror attacks. Not to mention the increasing frustration with a May government that grows sour the longer it goes past its sell-by date. Afropunk provides the platform for progressive conversation that raises important questions. How important is identity amidst this struggle? To what degree can art be a source of empowerment? We spoke to artists and festival-goers to gauge their take on it.

Omari © Elise Rose

Omari

When you think about the recent terror attack, the Grenfell Tower fire or the current political climate, how does it make you feel?

Numb. I feel like there’s nothing I can do so I make it wash over me. I don’t want to confront what’s going on so I’ll put a lid on it and turn a blind eye.

How is music and art an outlet for these emotions?

Art and music grants me a release from the depression or anxiety I’m going through. It’s beautiful how you can transform something negative into something expressive through art.

What does the “resistance” mean to you?

Not necessarily accepting the status quo, standing up for what you believe in. Not taking no for an answer.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on the current climate?

No. To say it’s the artist’s responsibility disregards our part in the matter.

Do you feel that a strong sense of identity is important?

Tricky one. I think a strong sense of self is important. I think identity can get tied up with ego. Your self is your true core of who you are and being centred and having values, that’s very internal.

How can music be a tool to spread a message of resistance?

People often see artists as role models, so when you do have a platform like music it’s very powerful. Look back in history and you can see that 80s skinhead culture was really into reggae; music has the ability to transcend difference.

Kojey Radical © Elise Rose

Kojey Radical

When you think about the recent terror attack, the Grenfell Tower fire or the current political climate, how does it make you feel?

It makes me angry but I try to avoid getting angry about things that need solutions as it makes it hard to think. There’s always a cause and now we are starting to see the effects; shame it has to come at the expense of the working class. It’s definitely more apparent who the one percent are.

What role does music play in all of this?

Music and art reflects the time we’re in. We have the ability to use our voice lyrically, musically or visually and now, more than ever, you can see the result of that.

What does “resistance” mean to you?

It’s the inception of change. It’s feeling the friction and going against it.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on the current climate?

Yes. It wouldn’t be so rare for people to use their voice if everybody did.

Do you feel like a strong sense of identity is important? How is style an extension of that identity?

Being yourself is easier said than done. The more things that bring us together, that are culturally accepting, the more you’ll see the influence in our sense of style. Within that I like to support black-owned businesses. We all have a sister who can sew but we won’t buy her clothes.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by? And Why?

Saul Williams. He’s like an uncle to me. I wouldn’t be doing music the way I do if it wasn’t for him and he’s always been vocal in his appreciation for what I do which has been humbling.

BBZ © Elise Rose

BBZ

What affect has the UK’s political discord had on you?

Bleak – not a vibe. I feel we live in an echo chamber and this shook us into waking up and clocking others. The echo chamber needs to be opened for discussions.

How is art or music an outlet for these emotions?

Art is a response to the world. It’s an emotional release and critiquing of your surroundings. Khadija Saye – an artist who died in the Grenfell fire – said “creativity is the immune system of the mind”. It’s fuel.

What does the “resistance” mean to you?

Being unapologetic, taking up space and being heard and seen within your lane; knowing your strength. With BBZ we feel our existence is resistance against society in itself.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on the current climate?

Yes. I don’t think anyone should do anything they don’t want to but I don’t rate you if you don’t.

How does BBZ fit in with the ethos of Afropunk?

Afropunk is a space to be yourself. The beginning of Afropunk, especially when it was free, hosted the most alternative black and brown people you could find while maintaining a strict no hate policy. BBZ is equally as inclusive. Afropunk has worked itself over here and captures the essence of Black British culture, something reflecting in our Afropunk installation My Yard.

© Elise Rose

Akiya Henry

What has been your emotional response to this year’s tumultuous political landscape?

Sad, angry and excited to move forward and challenge the institutions that keep up the suppressed/oppressed. We have these conversations within our social circles and industries but now it’s all being publicly brought to the forefront.

How can music or art be used to process these emotions?

People come and experience art and they don’t feel attacked or intimidated, they’re there to share. I recently did Black Lives, Black Words at the Bush Theatre and it had a massive impact on a demographic who don’t fully understand the struggle. Art allows everybody to be subjective.

What does “resistance” mean to you?

Power. Self-worth. Belief.

Do you feel like a strong sense of identity is important? How is style an extension of that identity?

Identity is the most important thing we can hold onto in this world, especially when we are constantly being told by society to be something other than ourselves. Style, in a crazy anarchic way, allows us to be wholly unapologetic.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by? And why?

Lianne La Havas. She had a really hard time via social media regarding a comment she made. It’s inspiring that she’s still here today saying I am who I am, I’m human and I still love my people.

The OBGMs © Elise Rose

The OBGMs

What are your thoughts on the Grenfell tower fire, the recent terror attack and our current political climate?

It’s shit but it’s good we are here in this community bringing the love back. Through all art there’s the opportunity for renaissance, it’s the catalyst helping people to heal and move forward, and what better way to do this than through punk music.

How is music and art an outlet for these emotions?

Music speaks the words that we can’t materialise. Creating music puts you in your most vulnerable state. At an individual level it’s where your humanity shows, songs are spawned out of these emotions in order to reach the audience in a positive manner.

What does the “resistance” mean to you?

The suffix is almost like the word ‘existence’, I want to resist the things that oppose what I believe in and exist for these guys in music.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on the current climate?

Abso-fucking-lutely. You have an opinion and the right conditions to make a difference. Black people are out here getting killed and you want to be talking about popping mollys on a Tuesday? Get your priorities straight.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by? And why?

Saul Williams. He’s been talking about the things I’ve been thinking about my whole life. We had the oppurtunity to play with him and seeing him warm up listening to James Brown and Chuck Berry was inspirational. Also SATE: she is completely intersectional, she is female and black – the definition of resistance.

© Elise Rose

Corrine Bailey Rae

When you think about the recent terror attack, the Grenfell tower fire or the current political climate, how does it make you feel?

One of them is about neglect and underinvestment. Terror attacks are a complicated combination of an unhinged individual and an ideology their linking into. All are human suffering and that’s deeply tragic and unnecessary.

How is art or music an outlet for these emotions?

Part of life is suffering and art helps you to unfurl those feelings.

What does “resistance” mean to you?

It’s physics, an actual force that stands against an opposing force. Many groups within this country who feel themselves under attack use resistance to advance in their struggle and progressively move ahead,

Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on the current climate?

I’m a big believer in the feminist maxim, the personal is the political. I’ve made music that’s personal and political but all of it engages with my surroundings – that’s important to me.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by? And why?

I came here to discover new artists like Botset, I find it really empowering discovering artists of a different generation who are like, “Oh I’m in a band and it sounds like The Jam and there’s two of us and we’re black and it’s not a biggie”.

© Elise Rose

Saul Williams

What does Afropunk mean to you?

I’ve been doing Afropunk since its Brooklyn debut. It’s always been this call out to the alternative and weird – those not easily categorised into boxes. Afropunk exists for the music as things become so exploited by media. The mission of the festival is very political.

Do you think a strong sense of identity is important?

Yesterday I read about a group in Italy called the Identitarians, young millennials trying to stop refugees. People play with ideas of nationalism and identity. I come from America which means a lot of things, like I don’t know where in Africa my people are from. Despite this we need to understand humanity’s transcendence beyond binary and bullshit categories inhibiting identity.

What are your thoughts on the idea of “resistance”?

It begins with the realisation that you have the capability to challenge a fixed identity forced onto you. The true democratic spirit is when people realise their connection which came before the wifi. The resistance is the fight against the shit that would normalise us. We stand up and say yes, I’m black.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by? And why?

Willow. She’s the youngest person on the bill and it’s important what she’s going to get from us. It’s all part of realising the legacy that you’re part of. Now there’s Black Lives Matter, before that we had civil rights, we must continue to stand up and inspire.

© Elise Rose

JaJa Kisses

How is art or music an outlet for emotions stirred up current politics?

I’m a musician so I’ve always used that to deal with the issues I’m feeling. There were a few events for artists of Grenfell – and then people like Akala were talking about serious issues and shifting our focus. It can make us more conscious too.

What does the “resistance” mean to you?

Resisting is opposing the people who are not allowing us to develop.

Do you think artists should comment on our current politics?

It’s not possible to care about every issue, everybody has a responsibility to say how they feel.

Do you feel like a strong sense of identity is important?

I had an epiphany yesterday that we are exactly the way we are supposed to be, there’s no more evolving. We’re constantly hoping to evolve and grow but we were born fine.

© Elise Rose

Sebali

When you think about our turbulent political climate, how does it make you feel?

Like we are in a state of emergency.

How do you use art or music to channel your emotions?

Music is the most powerful force on the planet. I’m a spoken word artist and I’ve found that if you want to tell someone something, rather than a lecture I feel they’d like to hear it put rhythmically.

What does the “resistance” mean to you?

Resisting things that are morally corrupt and don’t agree with my soul.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to comment on the current climate?

Depending what artist they are, some people don’t have any business being called an artist, role model or somebody our kids look up to. There are certain artists who we should be looking to set examples and be the role models we need for younger generations.

Do you feel like a strong sense of identity is important?

We have to know who we are, where we came from, if we don’t know that we can’t move forward.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by? And why?

Kojey Radical and Saul Williams. If you are looking at artists that speak for the people, then it’s these kinds of artists we need to be listening to.

© Elise Rose

SATE

When you think about the recent terror attacks, the Grenfell tower fire or the current political climate, how does it make you feel?

Really dismayed, heartbroken actually. We’re in 2017 and this shit is still going on?

How is art or music an outlet for these emotions?

Art has always been an escape from life, an imitation of life and the narrator of life. A way to incite resistance and break out against the powers that want to drug us into conformity.

What does the “resistance” mean to you?

Fighting. Being a warrior, finding your own joy amidst this bullshit. People really try to make us believe we are not supposed to be happy and reach our goals and dream and do the things that we love – and that’s bullshit.

What stands out to you about Afropunk?

It’s a safe space for people of colour to be free without judgement.

Which Afropunk artist do you feel most empowered by?

Saul Williams. He’s just so strong and convicted in who he is, he’s listened a lot, spoken a lot, travelled a lot and he is fabulous.

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