By Imogen Teasley-Vlautin
At most punk shows, or any alternative music show, there are only a few other black people amidst a sea of white faces. But during one extraordinary weekend each year at Commodore Berry Park in Brooklyn, the Afropunk Festival brings all of these few black people from scenes all over to this one place. It is the only weekend where we get to see the evidence that, yes, all different kinds of beautiful black people exist, and here they celebrate their art and culture with love. It is a celebration of the freedom to be you — while also being black — and that is revolutionary.
As soon as I saw that Bad Brains was playing Afropunk Festival this year, I bought my flight to New York City from Oakland. Living Colour and Fishbone opened and sang for their heroes, a dream come true for us all. For so many, Bad Brains is the first black band they saw playing punk. When Living Colour hit the stage, an enormous mosh pit of black punks erupted with volcanic energy, and I immediately started sobbing. In the words of Flying Lotus, Tyler the Creator, and several other Afropunk artists: Never have I seen so many black people at a show! I felt so loved, so special, so at home, and so normal. I felt the freedom to live and express, and that was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever experienced in my twenty years. For Bad Brains, growing up in segregated DC where the buildings were white and the people were black, it wasn’t about young black kids trying to play the music that white people played, but rather about them being fearlessly themselves. Black people invented rock and roll anyway — from Chuck Berry and Little Richard to the lesser known Big Mama Thornton, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Afropunk Festival celebrates the black legacy of music and demonstrates that we are free. It creates a unique environment where there is no fear in just being. It lures a crowd that wants to bask in the energy of a wide array of artists like the legendary George Clinton, superstar CeeLo Green, to powerful punk rock rap group Ho99o9, and incredible rapper Angel Haze, who captured my attention and imagination with the line: “I opened up my third eye and the view is amazing.”