we are afropunk: what the festival means to the people behind it

This weekend, AFROPUNK will land in London for the first time. We speak to those in the know — from NTS' AG THE DJ to founder Matthew Morgan — to talk their favorite memories of the festival and why it is so important in 2016.

by i-D Team and i-D Staff
|
23 September 2016, 6:17pm

On Saturday, September 24, London's Alexandra Palace will host a celebration of not just music, but individuality and inclusivity — a no-hate zone full of creatives loving one another and expressing themselves. As announced recently, i-D is partnering with the festival. We're hosting a stage and have programmed performances from the likes of Ho99o9, GAIKA, and Skinny Girl Diet. As we count down the hours until the big show, we delve a little deeper into the minds, memories, and music selections of AFROPUNK founder Matthew Morgan, NTS first-timer AG THE DJ, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah of UK BLACK PRIDE, Dean Ricketts of The Watchmen Agency, and Soulection's The Whooligan. Power to the party!

AG THE DJ, NTS (pictured above)

What does AFROPUNK mean to you?
To me, AFROPUNK means freedom to be — freedom to express and celebrate your true self without fear of judgement.

Why does it play such an important role in 2016?
I feel that right now within pop culture and society in general, the essence of blackness is popular but the danger of being black still remains. People are getting abused and killed for being who they are yet their cultural wear, food, and music is being celebrated by others. I think things like AFROPUNK — meant to be by and for the people — will always be of upmost importance.

What's your favorite AFROPUNK memory?
This will be my first AFROPUNK experience, so as of now my favorite AFROPUNK memory would be all the beautiful pictures I've seen on Instagram and watching videos of Princess Nokia's 2014 AFROPUNK performance on YouTube. She's everything.

Who or what are you most looking forward to about AFROPUNK London?
Seeing Grace Jones. She's a massive inspiration for me as she's achieved the world and more, but she's done it her way. I also saw some epic footage of her AFROPUNK Brooklyn set that gave me life.

Which one track do you think best represents the overall feeling or attitude of AFROPUNK?
I'm a grime kid, and I've always thought grime encompasses the same ideals that AFROPUNK has when it comes to expression, so I'd say that Lethal Bizzle's "Pow" represents the overall feeling of AFROPUNK for me simply because of how livid people within the mainstream media were that these men were everywhere, expressing themselves with pure hype. "Pow" was getting blamed for everything, got banned from clubs, and yet it's still one of the sickest tunes to date.

Matthew Morgan, AFROPUNK

What was your vision for AFROPUNK when it began?
It was to create an equal playing field — to have a space where black kids who wanted to be into alternative music and experience a venue where they could experiment and feel comfortable.

Has this come to life in your eyes?
Absolutely. And it continues to grow; it hasn't stopped or slowed down. We've got more and more artists in the mainstream considered alternative. So much has changed in the 15 years we started doing it. People's choices these days are more varied, they're less ridiculed for being different.

What excites you most about bringing AFROPUNK to London?
Coming home. When I left, I left with the idea of wanting to bring something back, but I had no idea it would be as important to me — that I'd be part of something so important. I grew up not far from Ally Pally, in Stoke Newington; that area was our stomping ground growing up.

What excites you about London's music scene right now?
So much. We put stuff up on the AFROPUNK website on a daily basis that comes from London. There's one act that really excites me because of his potential and it's a lot to do with what I grew up with, what's ingrained in me, and that's Gaika. He's doing something that's very familiar and has reference points, but it's very different. I see where he could potentially go and it's important that that influence of reggae is in UK culture and global culture in the same way that afrobeats is now a prominent feature of UK culture, or UK underground culture. It's really really important to me. But I love what he's doing and he's from the East End; I'm from the East End.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, UK BLACK PRIDE

What does AFROPUNK mean to you?
AFROPUNK means the freedom to live, laugh, and be authentically you. Being a queer woman of color, I want to feel celebrated, not judged, not erased; I want to be visible and in love with me.

Why does it play such an important role in 2016?
This year, a lot has happened in our communities, coupled with negative experience in 2015. This is an opportunity to come together celebrate our individuality as well as our shared commonality. That's a start to healing a community.

What's your favorite AFROPUNK memory?
This will be my first AFROPUNK experience and I cannot wait. Having met up with the organizers, it is exciting for me to be part of this experience.

Who or what are you most looking forward to about AFROPUNK London?
Being amongst gorgeous, fly, sexy people. Being in close proximity to the amazing Grace Jones. And of course, all of the amazing acts.

Which one track do you think best represents the overall feeling or attitude of AFROPUNK?
James Brown, "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!"

Dean Ricketts, The Watchmen Agency

What does AFROPUNK mean to you?
Freedom.

Why does it play such an important role in 2016?
I think with Brexit and other global issues, it serves as a community and safe space for people of color.

What's your favorite AFROPUNK memory?
I screened the AFROPUNK film at the BFI in 2004 as part of a Blacktronica film/club night to an audience that didn't live in stereotypes, and the reaction to the film was amazing. The term 'afropunk' was launched and it gave young people something to identify with.

Who or what are you most looking forward to about AFROPUNK London?
For me, it's the continual connection of the global dots.

Which one track do you think best represents the overall feeling or attitude of AFROPUNK?
I don't there is one track that represents AFROPUNK — there are too many tracks and too many different people that make up AFROPUNK.

Julio 'The Whooligan', Soulection

What does AFROPUNK mean to you?
AFROPUNK is beauty, resilience, style, and confidence — progressive music, culture, and worldwide community.

Why does it play such an important role in 2016?
Because having a voice and being heard has never been so important. AFROPUNK allows us to express our inner being and true self. The world needs more love.

What's your favorite AFROPUNK memory?
Curating our Soulection stage, along with my team, at AFROPUNK Brooklyn this past August will forever be a timeless memory. Last year I booked three of our artists, and earlier this year I was plotting on just how to sneak in. Then months before the festival, I get a call inviting us to perform and program an entire day of music. It was such an honor and responsibility, and I'm really grateful to New York and people from all over the world who came out to vibe with us that beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Who or what are you most looking forward to about AFROPUNK London?
I'm excited to see everyone in the squad. We love our family in London and Europe. I'm keen to peep everyone's colorful style and get-ups at the festival as well. And I'm beyond flattered to have SZA on our stage. She's mad talented and drop-dead gorgeous.

Which one track do you think best represents the overall feeling or attitude of AFROPUNK?
Kaytranada w/ Anderson .Paak, "Glowed Up."

Tagged:
Festivals
music news
afropunk
Soulection
NTS
UK Black Pride
music interviews