Afropunk: Circus of Soul touches down in Brooklyn

Afropunk returned to Brooklyn for 2 days of music on August 26th & 27th. The festival took place at Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Terminal Market for 2023.

As on brand for Afropunk, the lineup for the festival was all black artists from various genres. Some notable names included Tobe Nwigwe, Baby Tate, and Vince Staples. The lineup also included New York’s own Joey Bada$$, and day 2 headliner, Teyana Taylor.

Unlike last year, this year had a theme, which was Circus of Soul. Motifs of this theme could be seen throughout the event. Both on stage and in the crowd, fans and artists dressed as though they were part of a circus. R&B artist Cleo Reed really leaned into the theme by dressing them selves and other stage performers in clown attire during their set. There were performers on stilts wearing kente cloth patterns walking throughout the crowd. There were also Aerial Ring performers periodically doing stunts throughout the weekend.

This year was truly one to be at, as there were many performances and attractions that festival goers could really interact with all day.

A festival of the Arts

Afropunk is a festival that is bigger than music. Though music may be the highlight, it also features art and artists from all over the globe that center their creativity around the African diaspora. Inside the Spin Thrift Market, there were vendors selling things like clothes, jewelry, books, and weed products. Outside the Market, there were spaces for health and beauty. Festival goers were able to get their hair and makeup done, henna tattoos, and facials. Most of the vendors were also African American owned and operated.

In addition to vendors that were selling merchandise, there were also areas for festival goers to interact. In the center between the two stages, there were tents set up for festival goers to play games and run through a bubble pit. It seems as though they learned from last year as most activities and vendors were set up under large tents to protect against any potential rain.

Nonetheless, as much as there was to do off stage, there was much to watch on stage. There was a two stage setup to accommodate for about 30 performances. In between performances on both stages were DJ SNS and DJ Mohogany. They helped to keep the party going as people awaited some of their favorite artists to take the stage.

Day 1 Highlights

Day 1 had strong performances from Cleo Reed and a collaboration from the Soapbox presents on the 3 Ring Stage. The Soapbox brought together vocalists and musicians to bring a rock, R&B, and gospel like performance. This was one of the many perfect displays of how African American music is has roots in so many different genres that tend to overlap one another. The performance had fans feeling cool in the end of summer heat.

One of day 1’s most notable and electric performances was from Tobe Nwigwe. Originally from Houston, TX, Tobe holds on to his Nigerian roots well as they could be seen in his performances. He is always recognizable with his seafoam green outfits and sets. He brought out his wife, Martica Nwigwe, for a few songs from his set. He also had Olu from Earthgang come out for a song. Olu came out on brand, wearing seafoam green wings to sing “WILDLINGS” with Tobe. The performance was full of energy and surprises that keep the audience screaming for an hour.

Tobe’s performance was evened out by a more mellow from Vince Staples. Vince stared as “Maurice” earlier this year in the Emmy award winning show, Abbott Elementary. His Long Beach, CA vibes really brought the crowd down from their state of choas from before. Though his set did not features as many theatrics like Tobe’s, he still had the attention of the crowd. Vince had the crowd singing along to his hit song, “Norf Norf,” before there was a mass exodus from the event.

An uneventful end to the hype

The first night was headlined by Flying Lotus. He is a producer and DJ who has worked on many projects on TV shows and film. One of the most notable projects was Netflix’s Yasuke, an anime centered around the story of Japan’s first black samurai. He makes a lot of EDM and electronic rap songs primarily.

Flying Lotus did not receive much of an introduction which left many fans confused. Though his fans would be familiar with his music and style, this may have been many’s first exposure to him. He could barely be seen from behind his DJ booth and did not say a word for at least the first 20 minutes of his set. About halfway through, he was joined by rapper Smoke DZA, who he is working on a collaborative album with. Smoke DZA did bring some excitement and energy to his performance.

After Smoke DZA’s exit, Flying Lotus played a few more songs and was about to leave. He did not realize that his set was not over and played for about another 15 minutes. Flying Lotus had a pretty anti-climatic exit, as it was a pretty bleak end to day 1 of Afropunk 2023.

A stark turn around from Day 1’s mishaps

Day 2 still featured a full lineup that had Greenpoint full. What was nice about this year’s festival was the scheduling of performances. With the stage schedules pretty staggered, fans were able to see all their artists without really having to miss a performance. This really set Afropunk apart from other festivals as many usually have fans contemplating which artists they wanted to see more. If they wanted to, fans could see just about every artist and take in the full Afropunk experience.

Some notable performances from Day 2 were from Baby Tate and Joey Bada$$. Baby Tate brought a fun energy out of the crowd. With a lot of positive sexual messages infused in her lyrics, her music and performance made Greenpoint a safe space for women to express themselves. In the middle of her set, Baby Tate took a break and her DJ Sky Jetta tapped into a different side of her fans. Though Baby Tate makes rap music, Sky Jetta played alternative rock hits, including “I write sins not tragedies” that absolutely killed.

Baby Tate came back and continued to kill. She played unreleased song “Wig” and ended on her hit “I am” to leave things on a high. Joey Bad$$ proceeded her and continues to bring smiles.

New York showing out for New York artists

Joey Bad$$ was happy to be back in his hometown as he expressed his love for Brooklyn all through out his performance. The theme around his performance was love as he turned the camera toward the audience to celebrate black love. He had a kiss cam going on for a bit before singing “Love is only a feeling.” He dedicated a few songs to fallen black artists including, XXXTentacion, Nipsey Hustle, Pop Smoke, Young Dolph, and more.

Before he left, he expressed his happiness to be playing at an event where he could see so many black faces. He also threw a jab at Afropunk for being a bit unprofessional behind the scenes. He still left things on a high with “Devasated” before handing the stage over to Teyana Taylor.

The energy from day 2 was drastically different than from the previous day. Day 2’s lineup featured so many artist that people knew and loved. They had performances that people wanted to be a part of and sing along with. Day 2 was originally supposed to end with Grammy award winner Jazmine Sullivan. Due to some personal reasons, she could not perform, but Teyana Taylor was passed the torch to close out the weekend.

Rose of Harlem feeling the love

Nicked named the “Rose of Harlem”, Teyana Taylor closed out to packed audience in her city. Teyana had mentioned during her performance that she was nervous to headline a show as she felt as though no one would stay for her. Though some mic issues may have fueled those nerves early on, New York showed her so much love that it brought her to tears.

The sound was getting too much for Teyana as she asked for just the keys to play during one of her songs. She was able to get real close and emotional with the crowd before turning things back up. The crowd screamed “Issues” and ” Gonna Love Me” with Teyana.

She was joined on stage by her daughter ,”Junnie,” and husband Iman Shumphert, for a few songs. Her daughter helped her throw out free t-shirts to the audience. Teyana also had 3 outfit changes that synced up with the many different vibes of her performance.

She exited the stage, but quickly came back for an encore. Teyana ran into the middle column of the pit to slap the hands of her fans before closing out the night. She thanked New York for showing her so much love and making this performance one worth leaving retirement for.

Afropunk continued to bring peace, love, and education about African American culture to one of the biggest melting pots of the world. With Afropunk’s voice continuing to reach millions, it’s only a matter of time before it starts to expand to other cities across the globe.

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