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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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AFROPUNK 2021: A celebration of life, love and music

by Kaeyla Willis —

Kaeyla Willis (Photo: kaeylawillis.com)

As a Memphis-based live music and event photographer, I’ve kept abreast of the AFROPUNK festival and its focus on the music, arts and culture of Black people spanning multiple countries and cities.

I’ve wanted to attend for a while, but with COVID-19 on the rise, I was very apprehensive to attend any large gathering.

But then a wave of releases came from festivals and live music companies. The message was pretty clear to me: show that you are fully vaccinated or that you have had a recent negative COVID-19 test (within the past 72 hours) to get in.

The requirements made me feel a little better. After seeing the success of Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival (July 29-Aug. 1), I’ll admit that I felt more comfortable about deciding to experience AFROPUNK Atlanta 2021.

Forced to the shelf last year by the pandemic, AFROPUNK Atlanta 2021 returned with a bang, proving to be a weekend (Sept. 25-26) of positive vibes, good music, good food and good people. The festival featured a mix of artists and personalities, who were not only local to Atlanta, but also known internationally.

During the festival, I made sure to wear my mask (even though I am fully vaccinated) and noticed that quite a few attendees did the same. The masks even became a fashion piece of some costumes. The AFROPUNK festival is known for fashion, with a Google search pulling up numerous articles and moodboards highlighting the style of attendees throughout the years. 

Creative producer, influencer and stylist Jorge Gitoo Wright served as the weekend’s host and MC. Here’s a sketch of what I saw and experienced:

Day One: 

Day 1 headliner, Smino, sings to the crowd. (Photo: Kaeyla Willis)

Record executive and Dungeon Family member Kawan Prather, known as KP the Great, brought out legendary acts such as T.I., Big Boi, and CeeLo. T.I.’s son, Domani, even made a freestyle appearance.

VanJess, the Nigerian-American duo, drew from their latest album, “Homegrown,” including performances of “Slow Down” (recently remixed with Lucky Daye) and “Come Over.” Benji, a Pittsburgh rapper affiliated with the Spillage Village collective from Atlanta, debuted new songs and promoted the release of his new album, “Smile, You’re Alive.” 

Tems, a singer from Lagos Nigeria, had the crowd dancing and vibing to favorites such as “Essence” and “Crazy Tings” and songs from her recent EP release, “If Orange Was a Place.”

Smino was the Day 1 headliner, moving the crowd to woo and sway to “Wild Irish Roses” and other favorites.  He also played songs from his collective body of work, including “Merlot,” “Z4L,” “Blkjupiter,” “Pizano” (with a nod to Young Joc’s “It’s Going Down”) and “Netflix and Dusse.”

Day Two: 

Wale performs and closes out AFROPUNK Atlanta 2021. (Photo: Kaeyla Willis)

Yung Baby Tate delivered a show-stopping performance, with fans chanting and dancing to her hit, “Rainbow Cadillac.”

Lesibu Grand, an Atlanta-based new wave/punk band, performed its new single “I’m Not Sorry,” showing why the Associated Press listed the group as one of the Top 100 Bands to Watch in 2021.

Serpentwithfeet reads an excerpt from “Brother to Brother” to the AFROPUNK audience. (Photo: Kaeyla Willis)

Serpentwithfeet sang “Receipts,” “Fellowship” and “Same Size, Same Shoe” in addition to reading an excerpt from the book “Brother to Brother” by Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill. 

Later, the crowd belted out lyrics to singer Fousheé’s popular song “Single AF,” with one eager fan offering to take her out.

Rico Nasty commanded the stage with a high-energy, vibrant performance that featured songs such as “Tia and Tamera,” “Rage,” “OHFR” and “Let It Out.”

Wale ended the weekend on a high note by bringing the D.C. Go-Go style to Atlanta. Festival attendees swayed and danced to UCB’s Sexy Lady, with Tre’ singing the lead. Rotimi joined Wale on stage for their song, “In My Bed.” 

Rick Ross performed “Hustlin’” and “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast),” with a surprise appearance by Rico Nasty. Wale closed the night with “No Hands,” featuring Roscoe Dash, and even added a D.C. Go-Go twist to it.

In between sets, I chatted with AFROPUNK attendees. Among them was Vaani Kaur Rosario.

 “Loving,” said Rosario, responding to my request for a one-word description. “There’s an immense loving energy here. It makes me emotional and wish I had it when I was younger. It’s a community.”

(Kaeyla Willis is a graduate of the University of Memphis and a marketing professional.)


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