ATLANTA UNTRAPPED: Afropunk provides a platform for the mainstream and the misfits

The annual music, arts, and cultural gathering is an act of protest

"No Sexism. No Racism. No Ableism. No Ageism. No Homophobia. No Fatphobia. No Transphobia. No Hatefulness.' These are the rules emblazoned upon banners lining the stages at Afropunk's Atlanta Festival. Attending the annual music, arts, and cultural gathering is an act of protest. Like many of the artists who have been booked to grace the stage, attendees are seeking a safe space where they can fully be themselves and enjoy inclusive art. On it's face, that's not a radical idea. But, it's 2017, so anyone who isn't a cisgender, heterosexual white man has probably felt like the very idea of existing has been politicized.

Afropunk isn't new, but if there was ever a time for such a space to exist it's now, and, the culturally diverse city of Atlanta is the perfect setting.

The music festival highlights popular and underground acts that defy the status quo this weekend in Mechanicsville. Afropunk returns to 787 Windsor for the second year in a row Oct. 14-15 with R&B singers Miguel and Solange as headliners.

The festival was launched in Brooklyn in 2005 as a free concert, following the release of founder James Spooner's documentary film Afro-Punk.

The film reflects on Spooner's life as a black punk enthusiast. Since the inaugural Brooklyn event, Afropunk has hosted festivals in Paris, London, and Johannesburg, growing its global fan base and featuring headliners such as Grace Jones and Ice Cube.

While these artists might seem to be a normal part of the pop lexicon today, it is important to remember the significance of their work as artists of color who weren't afraid to step outside of the box. The same can be said for many of Atlanta's prominent hip-hop acts ranging from Outkast to Young Thug.

Speaking with Cooper ahead of the festival, she says that before Atlanta-based singer Janelle Mon??e was a Cover Girl, her first New York show was during an Afropunk festival. Mon??e has recently garnered attention for appearing in Oscar-winning films and advocating for social justice, but a decade ago she was forging a path for herself as an eclectic songstress with the help of The ArchAndroid, her 2010 LP that kicked off an ongoing saga about an ostracized android. Cooper name drops other black Atlanta artists such as Joi and Dallas Austin as examples of Atlanta musicians who have gone against the grain. A recent Afropunk article highlights the Atlanta alternative rock act Hero theBand.

In Cooper's eyes, Atlanta has always represented the punk spirit that Afropunk was built upon. She doesn't mean punk in the standard European sense, but the culture that has always been left of center.

"Donald Glover just brought funk back," Cooper says, referring to the Stone Mountain native's Awaken, My Love album under the moniker Childish Gambino.

Cooper might not live in Atlanta, but she knows there's more to the music scene here than mainstream hip-hop.

Afropunk's Atlanta festival lineup highlights the diversity among local black artists by featuring acts such as Bloodplums, Algiers, the Txlips and Pay to Cum alongside national genre defiers such as Willow Smith and Flatbush Zombies.

Atlanta has long had a diverse selection of music festivals for people to choose from, and there are constantly new festivals attempting to break into the market. In 2016, I covered Florence & The Machine at Shaky Knees, Harry Belafonte at Many Rivers to Cross and a brief Dungeon Family and Outkast reunion at One MusicFest.

But, if I'm being honest, I've grown festival fatigued over the years. While there are certainly far worse jobs, covering music festivals that last several days is exhausting. Couple that with the anxiety that many people feel in large crowds (myself included), and the Oct. 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, a lineup has to be pretty spectacular for me to get excited about.

I knew I wanted to attend Afropunk as soon as I saw the lineup.

R&B singer Solange has performed at a few shows since her critically acclaimed album A Seat At the Table was released in 2016. But, when a fan asked her about a tour last year she reminded them that she's a mother to a preteen who currently believes "ball is life.' She made it clear her priorities didn't allow her to commit to a tour.

When Afropunk announced that there would be an opportunity for me to be able to hear the singer perform pro-black songs such as "F.U.B.U." in Atlanta, I knew I had to be in attendance. To put it simply, there's no place I'd rather be than yelling "this shit is for us' at the top of my lungs in Mechanicsville."

As excited as I am to hear from the eclectic group of artists, ranging from Jamila Woods to Denzel Curry, I'm just as excited for the rest of the festival.

Attending Many Rivers To Cross last year, I saw the potential of a festival that meshed live entertainment, visual art, and conversations on social issues. But, that festival was new. It needed to work out a few kinks. This year, it didn't return.

Afropunk has the experience and a lineup worth supporting. In addition to live entertainment and visual art, the festival will host a series of Solution Sessions featuring Mary-Pat Hector, Miss Lawrence, and Melissa Harris-Perry. These discussions, according to Afropunk's website, are designed to provide "an opportunity to mobilize, inspire, engage, inform, and to rally some of our brightest around the importance of civic participation, diverse thinking, and encouraging attendees to envision themselves making a difference and supporting social innovations."

Afropunk Atlanta Fest. Oct. 14-15. 787 Windsor Street SW.


Jewel Wicker is an Atlanta native and award-winning freelance reporter who has been covering the music industry and hip-hop in Atlanta since she was a college student at Georgia State University. In her spare time, she loves to eat lemon pepper wings and debate the validity of your favorite artists.