Afropunk’s 20th anniversary: 23 countries, countless people

Written by Laura Muirhead, CNN

The European-Chinese street festival Afropunk has always been a celebration of self-expression and identity. The year’s first event began in 2002 when New York musician Sydney Imani created it with hip-hop producer Chingy.

Hip-hop and Latin music were so central to Afropunk’s ethos that the two artists were surrounded by a dedicated team of androgynous festival enthusiasts who wear clothing made of raggedy cloth. In response to people expressing their distaste by calling the street festival a “vulgar” and “indecent” event, Imani explained: “First of all, we’re doing this for people who feel like they don’t belong.”

1 / 10 London’s First Saturday Afropunk takes place every second Saturday of the month, with nearly 30,000 people taking part. Credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Thanks to a well-educated young audience and the presence of hip-hop artists — many of whom were able to address racism — Afropunk attracted a wide array of activists, artists and activists. The location selection also served to showcase artwork, films and culture from across the world.

Afropunk Atlanta, held at Centennial Olympic Park from 28 to 30 March, saw similar playlists of identity and self-expression. This year’s festival celebrated the fluidity of race and power in a period of growing political and societal tension.

New York born and bred, hip-hop musician and Afropunk founder Chingy was surprised by how his 2017 take on “Afropride” — on racism, racism, and racism — quickly resonated with the urban millennials watching on from the concert stages around Centennial Olympic Park.

“It wasn’t like we were trying to send a message to our audience that we needed to fix these problems; we just like to call them out. We kind of see them as in our space, that it’s the way they manifest and create, not the way society generally perceives them,” he said.

Chingy continued: “We go around with an event like Afropunk, because if we don’t take our energy and then flow it into the best in the world, what else are we doing in life? We are friends, our lives are full of people. We are able to send positive vibes out to the world and create a positive energy.”

Once Chingy released his politically-focused hip-hop track, “Afropride,” he wasn’t surprised by the amount of responses he received. “It felt really good to go and do music that was actually speaking about a lot of the issues we see. I think there was a lot of love towards my message,” he said.

This positive attitude extended to many of the Afropunk communities who attended the Atlanta festival. “I got people saying ‘I’ve been waiting a long time to come to Afropunk, you finally let us feel a part of it,'” said Rage Sanders, who as a youth community leader, felt free to express his identity in line with the festival’s ethos. “Because I’m Nigerian I feel I never felt represented in the United States,” she said.

Together with members of the Afropunk Atlanta Block Party Youth Brigade, Sanders stood up to their local police officers, who she said were confiscating wristbands at the concert. “There were police out here harassing people, saying ‘No one allowed in there without a wristband,’ a lot of things that make you feel you don’t belong. I had to speak up about it, and show my face, but I think that we are all going to get what we want.”

The following day, Afropunk Atlanta’s founder, Chingy, made sure that the festival put a positive, physical stamp on the city’s police. During the closing ceremony for the festival, a parade was scheduled to take place along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Atlanta.

“We are making sure that the lights are turned off on this entire city,” he said. “That white police are NOT involved in this, that people — the community that came — are us and we need their love.”

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