AFROPUNK is an annual arts festival that includes live music, film, fashion and art produced by black artists. It has achieved global reach, hosting festivals in New York, Atlanta, Paris and Johannesburg each year. Past lineups have featured artists including D’Angelo, Kelis, Mykki Blanco, SZA, and Solange, but in this festival’s fourth year in Atlanta, acts as genre-diverse as Anderson .Paak, Smino, Rayvn Lenae, Brittany Howard and Mahalia—as well as local Georgia DJs and producers like Divine Interface—drew a massive audience to the festival that descended upon southwest Atlanta.
This edition of AFROPUNK saw all of the city’s black weirdos, artists, activists and those who support them—regionally and nationally—swarm to the city for the weekend’s festivities. With additional festivals like the A3C Hip-Hop and Music Festival and the 49th annual Atlanta Pride festivities (which happen in October due to Atlanta being to hot in June—Saturday actually brought the first fall weather of the season) which were also that weekend, AFROPUNK Atlanta featured a wide intersection of attendees on the festival grounds.
During the day, AFROPUNK Atlanta hosted solution sessions on topics like “Black Gender Liberation in the Deep South,” engaging attendees in grassroot political ideation and brainstorming sessions, while skincare, haircare, fashion boutiques, local farmers and caterers ran their booths to sell goods to festival attendees. Smells of food filled the festival grounds packed with attendees who looked like they’re attending an afro-futuristic ComicCon with all of the accessories and makeup to match. Because the festival itself happened close to one of Atlanta’s major black communities located by quickly-gentrifying Pittsburgh and Adair Park in Atlanta, it felt quite important to be so visible.
AFROPUNK Atlanta brought a unique mix of artists to a talented line-up curated specifically for the city. Here are the artists who stood out the most.
The D.C.-born artist really knows how to command a stage and bridge his new audience with his old. Known for songs like “Weight In Gold,” “Talking To Myself” and “Open Up” from his 2016 debut album Ology, Gallant is known both for his vocal range and ability to write a song. But beyond the material he’s best-known for, some of his new music and, in particular, his performance of the recently-released “Sleep On It,” shows a sense of maturity Gallant is starting to apply to his craft. The onstage energy he shares with his band was amazing, especially during the final note he delivered as he walked offstage following a touching and vulnerable performance.
Similar to Gallant, but in a very different genre, Leikeli47 really knows how to run a one-woman show. The Virginia/New York-raised rapper performed songs from her most recent album, 2018’s Acrylic, including “Girl Blunt,” “Post That” and “Droppin,” alongside some of her older hits like “Attitude,” “Money” and “Look,” which truly got the crowd jumping. Leikeli47’s masked hero persona spoke to the pure underdog nature of the festival and the attendees it attracts: People unapologetically being themselves and feeling safe while doing so. She even knew to play Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck” in her DJ set, an immediate ticket to the true Atlanta, which has moved from the Eastside and Westside to the Northside.
Speaking of Westside Atlanta, EARTHGANG sure know how to deliver a live show. Their costumes alone showed the group’s attention to detail, regardless of how weird and eclectic their ambience is: Johnny Venus wore a two piece white outfit with wings and white feathers with his locs wrapped in a head wrap, while Doctor Dot had on a royal navy outfit with matching shoes and intricate metallic symbols all over. Performing in their hometown just a couple months removed from their debut album Mirrorland, EARTHGANG showcased an electrifying stage presence, which made their recent material feel even more chaotic. It was truly impressive how they were able puppeteer their crowd into a beautiful joy, excitement and dance. Songs like “UP,” “Proud of U” and “Bank” had the front row of the crowd jumping and each audience member repeating every lyric. Similar to Leikeli47, they’re in tune with the culture of Atlanta and it’s exciting to see them pushing that globally through their work.
Though new album uknowhatimsayin¿ was only released a few weeks earlier, the audience knew all of the words and were bobbing their heads along song after song. What stood out most about the Detroit artist was how, outside of his DJ, Brown performed this show solo and was never boring to look at. He used the stage well and kept quite a large crowd together despite competing with a hometown crowd at EARTHGANG’s more eccentric set next door.
Jsport and OHSO
Atlanta-based DJs Jsport and OHSO kept the audience moving and engaged between multiple sets. Known for his proclivity to play Atlanta-based artists at events put on by Club Morph, a black-owned queer nightlife company in Atlanta, Jsport brought pan-African sounds to some local R&B classics, while OHSO, known for her BounceDat Party, a femme-centered club experience, brought empowerment and trap rap between sets.
You could feel her presence the second she stepped on stage as she greeted the audience, who erupted in widespread admiration. During her performance—which showcased a pagan witch ritual theme—she even brought an audience member to help her sing “Pendulum.” FKA Twigs delivered an intoxicating performance, where the British avant-pop act and her dancers bent their bodies in all sorts of weird ways, all while she effortlessly hit high notes only matched by trained soprano singers. She was the apex of the AFROPUNK experience.