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Solange amazes Afropunk Atlanta

Shannon Barbour reflects on the festival's 2017 return

A Scene From Afropunk 2017
Photo credit: Brandon English
CROWDS AND POWER: A scene from Afropunk 2017.

Soul songstress Solange closed out Afropunk Atlanta, October 14-15, at the the 787 Windsor arts complex in Mechanicsville. The Afro-centric music, arts, and culture festival fosters an air of inclusivity, spelled out in bold black and white letters around the main stage: "No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness."

Despite the heavy-handed proclamations of what Afropunk is not, the fun, lighthearted energy defined what it was. While the crowd was overwhelmingly black, there were people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds dressed in everything from T-shirts and shorts, to elaborate costumes of tulle skirts, gowns, sequins, leather, tiaras and crowns, to semi-nudity; nipple freedom from bralessness in sheer tops, to top freedom with only the coverage of body paint.

Saturday opened the festivities with a full roster of musical performances on two stages, food and merchandise vendors, and visual arts displays. Standout performances came from Flatbush Zombies whose set was cut short due to a scheduling mishap and headliner, Miguel. Miguel seemed like a dubious choice, in light of his recent sexual assault accusations and arguably rapey lyrical content in songs like "How Many Drinks?' The singer performed "Do You..." and "Adorn' to a favorable crowd response. While he didn't address the accusations specifically he said, "You might have a big booty in front of you. Don't touch that woman unless she says it's ok. Keep your muthafuckin' hands to yourself."

Sunday brought Willow Smith, Bloodplums, Alice Smith and Tricky. A seated section between the stages held the Solution Sessions, a space for discussion with writer, Michaela Angela Davis, scholar Dorian Warren, and scholar and former MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry. "Free your mind, free your ass, and free your politics,' Warren said. "Part of what's odd is when the place that is your place turns into a hashtag,' said Harris-Perry, about her youth in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As the Sessions came to a close, the heavy rain sent attendees staying put in the seated area or running for cover under one of the enclosed spaces, but didn't shut the festival down. The electro funk rock of the Young Fathers and harder edged sounds of Algiers brought fans into the combined music and arts section known as the Red Stage.

There was a lot to see and do but everyone was there for Solange. The singer emerged dressed in red, flanked by red light with a full brass section accompaniment. She opened with "Rise' from her critically acclaimed album, A Seat At the Table. The space filled up quickly as attendees packed into the venue, from the front of the stage all the way to the exit.

Solange's dancing was as exuberant as her vocals. During an instrumental break in "F.U.B.U' she did a set of steps with her fists punching toward the ground in what appeared as a quick homage to big sis, Beyonc̩'s "Single Ladies' choreography. The similarities between her and her superstar sibling ended there as the fans swayed and raised their hands to the culturally-affirming, "Don't Touch My Hair."

"Thank you Afropunk, she said, "Thank you for giving me the space to grow and make mistakes and fuck up.' The crowd cheered in gratitude for what was nearly a flawless performance.

Heard throughout the festival, "Yasssss.' Lavish praise for a job well done.



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