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Afropunk pride goes worldwide

DIVERSE: The Brooklyn branch of the Afropunk festival in full-effect last year (image credit: Simbarashe Cha)

BLACK CULTURE is profitable – particularly to everyone but black people themselves. And while our coolness, swagger and bravado are often used by others, it’s rare to find a space where black people can congregate and celebrate the many great aspects that make us ‘us’.

One man who has made it a priority to do just that is Matthew Morgan.

As the co-founder of Afropunk – the music festival and media company that describes itself as 'a platform for the other black experience' – Morgan has been ahead of the game, creating a place for alternative black folk to celebrate their passions in a world that used to ostracise them for being different.

“My love for music festivals didn’t really begin until I started Afropunk,” reveals Morgan.

“That’s because none of the festivals I went to reflected our community.”

Afropunk festival was inspired by a short film created by Morgan and co-founder James Spooner, which was released in 2003, and documented the lives of African-American kids who identified with the radical attitudes of the 1970s punk movement. This movement was something that Morgan strongly resonated with while growing up in 1980s east London.

“As a kid growing up in east London, a lot of my interests were different – some would have been considered weird at the time,” says the Hackney- born founder.


FESTIVAL FAVOURITE: Afropunk co-founder Matthew Morgan

“So for me, it was important to create something for black kids who felt isolated in their community.”

The launch of the festival was a far cry from Morgan’s former life as the manager of ‘90s R&B band Damage– an experience that further enhanced his need to create something that celebrated black creativity.

“I used to manage Damage and they were the only black UK boy band at that time. It was extremely frustrating because, in the UK, if you’re a white soul singer they push blackness on to you, but if you’re a black act, they don’t promote your blackness.

“This just reinforced to me that I needed to create something that promoted who we are and to do that with pride.”

Since the festival’s inception in the heart of Brooklyn, Afropunk has continued to spread its pro-black cheer in cities including Paris, London, Atlanta and more.

“Our editor of Afropunk.com was born in Paris, and there are a lot of black people there who deserve to have their voice heard,” says Morgan.

“Having a festival in London was a clear choice because London is my home and informed a lot of who I am.“

"Atlanta is black heaven; it’s the gateway to the south. Brooklyn gave birth to Afropunk, and is actually my home and my first love. It’s given me so much love that I don’t think London has ever been able to give me in so many ways.


TUNE UP: Laura Mvula on stage at last year's Afropunk in Brooklyn (image credit: P Squared)

“And our entry into Africa – Johannesburg to be specific – is just a very important place.”

One of the key countries Morgan is interested in taking on next is Brazil. With its complex history of race relations, the festival founder is determined to bring the ultimate celebration of blackness to that region.

“We’ve decided to approach Brazil last because it’s quite possibly the most important place for us, and we really have to be ready for Brazil,” he says.

“All the cities that Afropunk is currently taking place in, and will take place in the future, are locations where black culture thrives and our people exist in – so connecting and building with them allows us to harness our culture in a way it hasn’t done before, and we can continue to evolve as our community does.”

For now, however, the New York resident is in high spirits as Afropunk goes full steam ahead with its 2017 shows.
With the line-up for the Brooklyn date announced, and acts including Solange and Sampha taking to the stage, it is shaping up to be an incredible show.

“We always do our utmost to put acts together that you definitely won’t see anywhere else as a collective, so all the shows will definitely be a great experience,” Morgan says.

Brooklyn holds a particularly special place in Morgan’s heart, as he credits the New York borough for his own personal growth.


Image credit: @Afropunk/Twitter

“I remember when I used to come back to the UK from New York, people would think I was a little too radical – a little too black,” he continues.

“And I think moving to New York definitely helped me to thrive and grow, mentally and physically – I have such a passion for Brooklyn.”

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“Here, you’ll find people burning incense so the streets smell of it, to Erykah Badu playing and living in Fort Greene. It’s just an environment that we’re yet to have in the UK in any shape or form.”

While New York is where Afropunk was born, the Brooklyn-based creative still credits his diverse London upbringing for his outlook on life.

“I grew up in Stoke Newington and then Tottenham, and everybody I knew was West Indian. The only person I knew who was white was my mum – because I’m mixed race. I’ve always grown up in a black West Indian environment, and around people who were comfortable in their blackness. That’s why I’m so excited about this resurgence of black pride here in the UK, and I think it’s great.”

This celebration of ‘wokeness’ makes Afropunk the mecca for all things black and beautiful.

From the eclectic fashion, carefree vibe and great music the festival is everything that Morgan wants it to be and more.

“Whenever you come to Afropunk, there’s always going to be great music, but really, it’s all about the people.”

For more information on this year’s London festival, click here.

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