Afropunk, the amalgamation of the “African spirit” and alternative music across genres, was birthed from a casual hangout on a neighborhood corner in Brooklyn nearly 20 years ago.
In a haze of incense, surrounded by a group of friends, vegan food vendors and hip-hop lovers, British-born Matthew Morgan began developing a vision for what the now wildly popular musical festival would be.
“It was their African Day Festival,” Morgan recalled in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The focus on the African diaspora. That was really my journey into knowing what was missing. We hadn’t gotten to Afropunk yet, but it planted the seed for me.”
On Saturday. Oct. 12 and Sunday, Oct. 13, the 15-year-old festival, dubbed the Carnival of Consciousness, will envelop 787 Windsor in Atlanta with an array of alternative music acts that span from Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes) to Atlanta garage-punk band Upchuck. Beyond drawing in alternative music fans, Morgan foresees the Atlanta edition of the now international event growing the consciousness of young black people in Atlanta.
Growing up in London’s public housing, Morgan lived in a predominately black community but was exposed to various types of music. He would eventually become keenly drawn to punk rock and hip-hop. While working as an artist manager for alternative artists like Santigold and Cree Summer (best known for her role as Freddie Brooks on “A Different World”), he noted that the missing piece was a collective way for black people on the fringes of mainstream music and art to “connect the dots.”
His vision was featuring some of those lesser-known, unsigned artists in a documentary as a way to promote and bring awareness to musical outlanders. “Afro-Punk,” a 66-minute documentary directed by James Spooner, premiered in 2003. Shortly after its premiere, Morgan and his team developed the film into a showcase at the Brooklyn Music Academy.
“Brooklyn Academy of Music is where we started,” Morgan said. “We were in the café, but with a couple of hundred excited youthful exuberant young folks into punk rock, it was a confining space.”
Each year the crowd for Afropunk grew, and by 2012, Morgan and his team had their eyes on Atlanta as the next stop. Morgan recalls first magnetizing to the city for its overflow of successful black people and the now shuttered Glady’s Chicken and Waffles. He eventually discovered the embarrassment of riches in the form of music and culture in what he refers to as “black heaven.”
“Atlanta’s the gateway to the South for me,” he said. “It’s also a place where alternative black music, alternative black hip-hop and alternative black mainstream music has been created forever…There is something in the water here that allows for this black creativity to thrive in a way that it doesn’t in other places.”
This weekend’s lineup reveals Atlanta’s prominence as an incubator for unique African American musical acts. Atlanta hip-hop group Earthgang, which features lyricists Olu and WowGr8, will perform at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Garage punk band Upchuck, a collective of musicians influenced by blues, rock and rhumba, will take the Afropunk stage at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The weekend’s lineup also includes Sir, Cautious Clay, Lucky Daye, Fever 333, Mahalia, Duckwrth and Louder Than Quiet. Find the complete lineup here.
In addition to the music, the event will feature the Spinthrift Market, a marketplace of more than 30 vendors who specialize in natural beauty products, apparel, jewelry and crafts. The two-day fest will also include a series of talks, solutions sessions, which encompass conversations on solutions for increasing representation and support for marginalized communities, perspectives on black gender liberation in South and black women and mental health.
All of Afropunk’s happenings will take place in the collection of warehouse buildings at the 787 Windsor venue space. The area, near Atlanta’s downtown tucked behind a residential area, was selected by Morgan and his team due to it being in the heart of the city in a community reminiscent of Morgan’s childhood upbringing.
“The reason we’re in this environment where we are is access to our people, access to the community, so they don’t have to go far out of their comfort zone. They don’t have to go far economically either. (The area) truly is the city. It’s a part of the city which would never have seen a festival until we came here.”
Tickets are now $110 for the weekend of shows; $60 for one-day passes. You can also pay for a $20 parking pass near the venue.
For more on tickets, directions and festival FAQ’s, visit https://afropunk.com/festival/atlanta/.
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