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Afropunk Festival

Afropunk Festival

The Afropunk Festival (commonly referred to as Afropunk or Afropunk Fest) is an annual arts festival that celebrates and unifies the cultural cornerstones of AFROPUNK through music, film, skate, and art.

The annual festival made its first debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Brooklyn, New York City in 2005, and has since culturally expanded the festival across countries. Originally co-founded by Mathew Morgan and James Spooner, the festival was inspired by Spooner's 2003 documentary film Afro-Punk, which spotlighted black punks in America. The festival originally sought to provide black people an opportunity to build community amongst the predominantly white punk subcultures. To attract a wider audience, the festival shifted to include soul music, which expanded its target demographic, attracting headliners including Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz, and Gary Clark, Jr. Musical performers now represent a variety of genres, primarily known to reflect African-American culture.

Afrofunk's recent changes to its diverse cultural showcases, has allowed the festival to build its masses to 60,000 attendees.

[2] Due to festival alterations that deviated from original Afropunk culture, former co-founder, James Spooner made the decision to end his involvement with the festival in 2008.

Soon after, Jocelyn Cooper was introduced to the festival as co-organizer, broadening Afropunk Fest to Atlanta, Paris, London, and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Afropunk Festival
Genrealternative, blues, R&B, hip-hop, electronic, rock
Years active2005-present
Founded byMatthew Morgan, James Spooner



Released in 2003, James Spooner debuted a 66-minute documentary film, Afro-Punk, exploring the lives of blacks within a white punk subculture.

Growing up bi-racial within the urban jungles of New York City is where Spooner discovered and connected with the punk music scene and culture.

After examining the world of punk and noticing the lack of color present within the subcultured community, he began to question what it means to be black within a predominantly white music world.

Digging deeper into the subject of race became the inspiration for his documentary.

Traveling throughout the United States and abroad, Spooner followed the lives of four African Americans who have submerged and dedicated their lives to the punk rock culture.

Through exclusive interviews with various punk rock bands including, Fishbone, 24-7 Spyz, and Dead Kennedys, Spooner's documentary covered issues of loneliness, exile, inter-racial dating, and the double lives people of color led within a predominately white sub-cultured community. [9]


After being featured at the Toronto International Film Festival, American Black Film Festival, and the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, Afro-Punk began receiving multiple awards and forms of recognition from film festivals all over the world. With Afro-Punk's rising notability, Spooner expanded the black punk rock culture into a website based on the film. The website featured a message board that gained a few thousand members with one common interest, black punk rock culture. Among the topics of discussion arose conversation about the punk band Stiffed, specifically the lead vocalist, Santi White. With Afro-Punk in mind, Spooner considered the idea of having the band perform after one of his screenings. After contacting Santi White's manager, Matthew Morgan, Morgan thought that the opportunity would be a vehicle to get Santi signed. [10] Afro-Punk's worldwide success in film, gained the attention of music executive, Mathew Morgan, who recognized the power the punk/rock movement beyond its dominate white audience. [11] After success with Spooner's screening and after show performance, the two began to colloborate on a party called the Liberation Sessions, which promoted black artistry via music and film. Two years later, the film producer and music executive would soon join forces again to create Afropunk, the festival in 2005.


Afropunk, the festival, was associated as a safe space for black punks to freely express themselves and love for the subculture by building a community with one another, a community of color that was often ignored within the dominate white punk/rock culture.

However, as the festival grew larger, reaching larger demographics, the presence of punk culture began to shift toward a larger audience, focusing more on neo soul performances.

Along with the notable change in the festival's focused genre, the once free festival now charges admission prices.

As Afropunk became scantily punk, moving away from its origins and driving away its core demographic group, it also forced James Spooner away.

During Afropunk's fourth festival, a rap-reggea-punk band performed a cover of Buju Banton's, "Boom Bye Bye," which caused controversy with the black queer community, one of Afropunk's core target demographic groups. Unsatisfied with how Morgan was deviating from Afropunk's original values of being a safe space for outcasted blacks, transitioning the festival more towards a mainstream audience, James Spooner decided he did not want to be involved with the festival in 2008. [10]

2009 - Present

After James Spooner's departure in 2008, music industry veteran, Jocelyn Cooper joined Matthew Morgan in 2009.

As the former head of A&R at Universal, Cooper transitioned into Afropunk's music festival by aiding in the development of their sponsporships and directing Multiply, Afropunk's marketing, content, and advertising agency.

With Cooper's involvement, she's was able to secure brand partnership deals with MillerCoors, Nike, and Pantene. As Jocelyn developed relationships with major companies, giving her the opportunity to broaden Afropunk across seas, she was able to expand the Brooklyn-based summer festival from 2,500 attendees to 90,000 among multiple cities, including Atlanta in 2015 and Paris and London in 2016. [12] New to the roster for its 2017 festival tour will include Johannesburg, South Africa. [13]

Notable performers

The following performers have performed at the event at least once

  • D'Angelo

  • Kelis

  • Lianne La Havas

  • Lauryn Hill

  • Suicidal Tendencies

  • Grace Jones

  • Lenny Kravitz

  • Gary Clark, Jr.

  • Sharon Jones

  • Bad Brains

  • Shinobi Ninja

  • The Suffers

  • Shabazz Palaces

  • Body Count

  • Chuck D

  • DJ Lord

  • Questlove

  • Mykki Blanco

  • Death

  • Rye Rye

  • Danny Brown

  • the London Souls

  • Theophilus London

  • Wicked Wisdom

  • Jean Grae

  • Eve [5]

  • Trash Talk

  • SZA

  • Unlocking the Truth [6]

  • Lolawolf

Future events

Afropunk Festival expanded to Paris and Atlanta, Georgia in 2015, although the Atlanta festival was cancelled due to Hurricane Joaquin. [7] Expansion to Oakland, California is a possibility. [8]

See also

  • Afro-punk


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