Afropunk London was the most fashionable event I’ve ever been to. Everything from the labyrinthian industrial complex of a venue, Printworks, to its attendees screamed style. The political-movement-turned-festival is a celebration of diversity in each of the cities it lands in every year, and though principally a festival celebrating black artistry, the motto “No Racism. No Homophobia. No Ableism… (etc.)” suggests a broader message of inclusivity in a world plagued by dishonesty and prejudice in its political climate. Though a music festival at heart, the event has a powerful political and social edge, which is what makes the occasion so unique.
As I arrived at the festival, I made a beeline for the stages, taking in the plethora of interesting food and clothing stalls and art exhibits as I walked; there was even a car parked at the entrance which was covered in signatures and drawings from attendees. I made a point of catching some acts I knew very little about. The first of these was Back Orchid, a dark, heavy blues-rock band who were tearing up the green stage, while Mahalia impressed on the red stage with her soulful acoustic RnB melodies and personal song writing.
The political-movement-turned-festival is a celebration of diversity in each of the cities it lands in every year
Mickey Lightfoot was an interesting surprise act for me as I’d never heard of him or his music until I saw him play, but he seemed like an entertaining and capable rapper with a sharp political edge. However, it was Connie Constance that made the biggest impression with her intense and surprisingly dramatic hip-hop and RnB stylings, her whispery-yet-powerful voice the standout feature of her performance.
There were three acts I especially sought to catch as I attended the second day of the event. The first of these was Nao. An up and coming neo-soul singer, Nao gained notoriety featuring as a backing singer for a variety of artists including Jarvis Cocker and she released her debut EP So Good via her own record label, Little Tokyo. Having already seen her at Parklife a few weeks prior, I knew what to expect. This did not, however, leave me unexcited for her Afropunk set as she brought an equally energetic performance and powerful set that kept everyone in the room dancing and singing along to her self-styled “wonky funk” jams.
Right after was Thundercat, an artist I’d been dying to see ever since I first heard his stellar bass playing on the instant-classic To Pimp a Butterfly and Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!. He played a set primarily comprised of songs from his new album, Drunk, an adventure in whimsical jazz-fusion and neo-soul. The songs were laced with furious improv battles with his two band mates, giving the set the air of a classic jazz performance but with the futuristic 6-string bass stylings that Thundercat has made his signature sound.
The songs were laced with furious improv battles
Continuing the home-run of fantastic artists was Lianne La Havas, the act I was most excited for. Her most recent album, Blood was an exceptional blend of folk-tinged neo-soul and pop and earned her widespread critical and commercial acclaim. Despite the lavish, spacey album production, La Havas opted instead for a lone guitar as the only backing for her voice, stripping back her songs to the bare minimum. This gave the show a special intimacy as well as allowing her astounding vocal abilities to shine through as the focus.
The only downside to La Havas’ otherwise flawless set was that her last song was cut (presumably to be “What You Don’t Do”) due to time constrictions (it was Thundercat’s fault, he went over), prompting a gushing apology from La Havas. Despite this, her set felt special, and was the perfect way to round off the second year of a truly unique and inspired music festival.