– A special field report by Daryll Benjamin, our man on the NYC scene –
Saturday, DBurt aka Afronerd and I got to the park right around 12ish and the lines were already around the block. He went his way and I went mine to enter the park. The first act I caught was a band I found out about last AfroPunk: Qaasim & The Juggernaut War Party. My description of them remains the same as a controlled chaos on stage and that kinetic energy filters out to the fans. Unpolished rap and rock hybrid would remain my description of them and it works because no one, even them, knows where the performance is going to take them. After a few songs, I traveled from the Red Stage and floated over to the Green Stage to catch Courtnee Roze (The Culture) which combined African drums and Hip-Hop. Dipped out after a couple and hooked back up with DBurt to see if we could catch The Txlips by the Gold Stage but alas, they were performing elsewhere. We did stick around there however for two reasons: 1) It was one of the park’s shaded areas that wasn’t crowded (yet), and 2) The DJ spinning at the time, Shelter, was absolutely killing with a 90’s Londonbeat/Dance/Hip-Hop set.
I admit I got lazy here and wanted to lounge, but it gave me an unexpected benefit: seeing The Skins tear down the Gold Stage! Holy Rock N Roll Folks! Bed Stuy’s own came out and said “No one is going to upstage us in our borough!” with a performance that set the bar high for the day. Damn, and I had to leave after a few songs to check out other things, but DAMN!! They were excellent! From there, I went back to the main stage (Green) to check out Shabaka & The Ancestors. Imagine soulful African Jazz Fusion and even with that description I think I am doing them an injustice. Stayed there a minute after catching their performance to hear Jasmine Solano DJ, a Caribbean rhythms meet 90’s hip-hop set for a minute before undertaking another journey to the Red Stage and catching Leikeli47. Just trying to describe these acts taxes a lot of brainpower folks, as L47 had a George Clinton meets MF Doom vibe going. And coincidentally around this point is when Afronerd bumped into Afrofuturist Ytasha Womack rocking out with a friend. I say it like that because while conversing with them, I totally didn’t notice L47 bringing up the teen drumline from Brooklyn United to kill the stage!!! Holy S*** people, just Holy S***! I’m going to need a minute . . .
*commercial pause as Daryll downs a couple of Pepsi cans*
*GASP!* OK where was I? Oh yeah. So as Madame Womack caused a couple of guys to walk into one another as she rocked out (HA!), I just HAD to keep on moving and headed back to the Gold Stage to check out Jojo Abot. Imagine Grace Jones’ aesthetic in a total African musical climate and you got this young lady. From there it was back to the Green Stage for King, who I describe as Zhane playing instruments in a PM Dawn rhythm as they sung. Around this time, Afronerd used his advantages and bumped into Nicole Beharie over in VIP. Now I not mad . . . until way after the event and I saw pics she took with Simone Missick, who I personally passed like 5 times in my travels and DIDN’T REALIZE THAT WAS MISTY F’N KNIGHT!!!! This . . . THIS is my lowest point as a geek folks. But I digress *slamming head against wall* back to Saturday . . .
Caught a bit of The Twilite Tone, took us back to the 60’s and 70’s with his set before I journeyed back to the Gold Stage to catch Jorja Smith. Every time I go to this I find an artist that wasn’t on my radar before. Two years ago it was Lianne Le Havas. Last Year it was the aforementioned Qaasim along with Bxpltn. This year it was the soulful sounds of young Ms. Smith. Sade meets a harder TV on the Radio is how I would describe this set. I floated back over to The Green Stage afterwards to catch the last part of Sinkane ripping up the crowd with a blistering set. Bounced back to Gold Stage to see Macy Gray being her soulful self and now I begin to notice traveling between these 3 stages is getting hard as hell. Managed to sneak back into Green Stage for Thundercat playing a pure rock set followed by the bluesy Sampha.
This greatness kept me distracted long enough that the Red Stage got packed over capacity to rock with Willow Smith. So I’m sorry folks, I got nothing on this score, but if I may glean a positive out of this, it allowed me to get back to the Gold Stage quick enough to get great video of Soul II Soul’s opening. I had to get a win sometime people! So I’m taking this one!
*humming “Keep On Moving” as I move on*
From there, DBurt and I managed to avoid the people jam and sneak around to the back of the Red Stage crowd and catch SZA’s set. What amazed me was the amount of people that knew EVERY song word-for-word. Awesome feeling. Awesome setting. And now with that being said, it was time for the main event on the Green Stage. No, not NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, who to his credit, kept his thank you/afropunk spirit/ togetherness speech brief, but Solange . . . and we have technical difficulties. *groan* Props to DJ Lindsey for doing an extra long set that combined a lot of music: Freestyle, R&B, hip-hop, even blues into an amazing distraction while the crew got everything right. After 30 extra minutes, Solange arrived with a fierce set that ended the night on a high note for all that attended.
Now I couldn’t catch everything. For the goings on over at the Pink Stage this year, let me direct you to Nathan Leigh’s article direct from the AfroPunk site.
Yes, we also had fears of the product “selling out” but I must say that the only noticeable mainstream backers to me here were Under Armour & Toyota. A much more subdued corporate presence compared to the previous couple of years. Not many bad incidents that I saw and once again, people of all types and walks of life were together rocking their faces off for 9+ hours. Best thing about this is, once again, I had a blast and can’t wait until next year already.
Thanks For Reading & Until Next Time, Keep Rocking!
Note: All the musical artists’ music can be found on the usual places including: Soundcloud, iTunes and on the AfroPunk site.