As the wet weather continues throughout the UK, Afropunk Fest London lands and with improvements to boot. This year they took over new event space Printworks in Canada Water, London with two music stages, two marketplaces, a food court and various art installations. A great choice of venue with its industrial setting and in particular the upper-level with its edgy factory aesthetic. Afropunk’s second visit to London was already feeling like a well-needed alternative to the mainstream festival season, especially with its moral thread of protest for injustice.
Raised in Hoxton, just 10 minutes away from the venue, young artist Kojey Radical opened the Red Stage with a performance that pulled in a swelling crowd. Packing punches with his reflective poetry, ambient synth-filled beats and questioning of stereotypes, Kojey set the festival off in true Afropunk fashion.
Situated on the upper-level it was accompanied by bar/hang-out area and housed a live painting session from British Ghanaian artist Neequaye ‘Dreph’ Dsane. After a brief social media campaign prior to the festival, Dreph chose to paint two of his large scale portraits over the festival, extending his unsung heroes and heroines’ work with musician activist Mikel Ameen and photographer Fiona Compton. With stunning results full of colour and a distinctive confidence portrayed in his subjects, Dreph is a stand-out artist with more of his work found on the streets of London and around the globe.
Bluesy-Rock came from a humble Liam Bailey who brought a welcoming audience as he took to the Green Stage in the main hall on the ground-level.
Going back upstairs for more homegrown talent and Nadia Rose is bringing the energy, side-eye stare and beatboxing squad member included. With her confident delivery and club bangers like Tight Up, Nadia always represents.
A brief stop in the market place to check out the wide range of stalls selling vibrant African inspired garments, accessories and charitable campaigns such as domestic violence awareness charity Bad Karma Impala. Alongside organisations such as the UK’s first dedicated black heritage centre the Black Cultural Archives.
And it was back to the Green stage for Los Angeles based punk duo The Bots, bringing an electric rock edge to the masses.
The vibes of London’s Jazz ReFreshed kept the people rocking at the Red stage while the crowd steadily built for the arrival of probably Afropunk itself, Saul Williams. The slam-poet wordsmith graced the stage to an excited crowd, swiftly moving forward and tightening-up as more joined. With unparalleled conviction, Saul has an undoubted presence of a messenger, with freedom of mind, body and soul at the forefront. Bringing his kids to the stage to perform with him added even more personal appeal and an array of material seemed to hit the audience right where they wanted it, with Black Stacey being one of many highlights.
Fashion also plays an important part to the festival, with its stylish attendees bringing various flavours to express themselves. I briefly met award winning artist Rohan Clarke at his Uptown Yardie stall in the marketplace. Their positive vibes of Jamaican heritage really are set apart in a unique way, designing shoes and fashion items for a culture not catered for by the mainstream.
Corrine Bailey Rae gave a joyful performance with a few sing-along members of a very large gathering, but Danny Brown had people squeezed in and squeezing through to get closer to the Red stage.
The Detroit rapper had everyone bouncing along to his distinctive twang as he went through hit songs with precision.
The Heavy rocked a stellar performance too, with the band seemingly enjoying themselves even more than the audience.
Nostalgic moments were had with DJ sets from both Don Letts and Jazzie B who blessed us with some exclusive Soul II Soul classics to boogie to.
The Internet, who have an ever-growing and solid fanbase, played out the night with their addictive and highly innovative neo-soul sound, filling the main hall wall to wall. Giving us songs from across their dynamic albums including solo projects, the band really did please. Everyone had their hands in the air regularly and sang along with appreciation, shouting ‘you fucked up’ to the song Just Sayin’, the same way it seduces you to on the album but with added excitement.
Afropunk London met a lot of expectations and had a constant high-standard of music throughout. It certainly feels like Afropunk London is starting to take a hold and hopefully continues going strong for years to come. ‘We The People, Believe In Yourself’.
Live Review & Photography by Nosa Malcolm at Afropunk Fest London @ Printworks, 22nd July 2017