2019 January 2: Musical Freedom at AfroPunk

by Mantis Mamabolo

Filed imges by Lerato Dumse

AfroPunk Day 1

30 December 2018

Partly cloudy with a chance of Afrochic, street fashion, artistry, good food and drink and amazing music. Volumous clouds hang low in the sky, heavy with probable showers. The sun makes the occasional appearance almost to steal a glimpse of the splendor that is to be AfroPunk 2018, Johannesburg edition.

I enter through the gates and my hand painted t-shirt that says, “Don’t assume my gender” attracts queer eyes. Not only a party, Afropunk has always attempted to create a safe space for the LGBTIAQ+ community to voice it’s politics. This is evident in its festival mantra: NO SEXISM. NO RACISM. NO ABLEISM. NO AGEISM. NO HOMOPHOBIA. NO FATPHOBIA. NO TRANSPHOBIA. NO HATEFULNESS. This is evident in the audiences it attracts right around the world from Brooklyn, to Paris and now the queerest in Johannesburg. This is evident in the line up that is on offer at each of these venues. This year goes without exception with the most representation in terms of LGBTIAQ+ artists of any festival on African soil. The 2018 line up boasts at least nine artists across the various musical disciplines.

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K Dollah is the first of that queer representation to hit up the Gold stage with sounds cultivated in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. A transgender man from the Cape with a stellar deliverance of music prepared, his performance is unfortunately marred by alleged misgendering off stage and him being referred to as ‘she’ by the MC Smash Afrika, who brings him onto stage. This echoes the sentiment that follows the festival as well as the establishment that real transformation is not as authentic as is portrayed in the realms of media.

A slight dampener but he pushes through and delivers an amazing set and the day continues as the festival moves in full colour, under the gaze of the sun that sits behind the clouds that periodically remind festival goers of their presence. I take this moment to walk through the impressive market set up along the flanks of the main stages. The stockists boast their best wares in combinations of African prints, beads and creativity. A pop up barbershop is also set up because what outfit is complete without the hair done right.

The bar is not as enthusiastically stocked but I find a drink that satisfies the thirst. Drink in hand I watch as Coloured markers are passed around festival goers pen their words of wisdom and have their names immortalized next to the official ‘kook kid’ art on the 2019 Hyundai KONA (Grand i10 X) on display.

As I get lost in the technicolour of my surroundings I get snatched back to the reality of the music as the MC announces Moonchild Sanelly, South Africa’s favourite blue haired siren. My first instinct tells me it’s a bit too early but I head to the stage to find her centre stage and glorious with a Pink Panther soft toy in tow. She starts her set where her career began with Rabubi and takes the audience through high energy celebrations of the female form as she and her dancers go through the motions of choreographed voshos and body positivity themes. Moonchild’s energy transfers through her entire team on stage and spills over the barriers as she lifts herself over them and joins the crowd for Nayi Le Walk on the greens. She plants a blue kiss on my cheek as she disappears backstage.

This energy follows the crowd as they disperse for bathroom breaks and a trip to the bar. The gender non conforming duo that is FAKA (Desire Marea and Fela Gucci) catch my attention as I wash my hands outside the port loo station. A voice so deep, vibrates through my feet through my body and the poetry it recites hastens my movements to the stage. I find myself half running to the stage, almost unconsciously, to witness FAKA in all their lime green splendor, for the first time on a platform of this magnitude. I am immediately ushered into an existence, albeit temporary, where the truth of queer sexual desires and graphic descriptions of love and lust are not privileges reserved for cis-gender and/or heterosexual being. An existence where they are a human response that can be owned by anyone in control of their own sexuality and identity. Their queer bodies, their poetry, their chanting, and their music assisted by photographic expressions of religion and Black traditional projections tell stories not unique to them but expressed in a way that those beautiful in their truth can tell.

When that microphone drops its almost like the music has penetrated the clouds above as the heavens open up and the first of the Afropunk rains come down upon us. The grounds clear as the festivalgoers run for cover, and I find my dry place in the VIP tent. The festival is forced into an intermission pushing the festival back about an hour. In the downpour however entertainment does not stop as a lone queer (difficult to determine their specific identity) finds strength in their heels and vogues in the middle of the grounds. Black love never to be overshadowed finds love in their hearts to display their affections in the rain. The rain stops and Nomisupasta and her band serenades us back to the music and has us losing ourselves but only for a moment.

In the very next moment we find ourselves, every part of ourselves, as the Queen of Bounce hits the stage immediately after. Big Freedia, a transgender rapper from the depths of Ne Orleans in the United States of America, booms over the microphone and her hour long set of Bounce has EVERYONE from the stage, to the grounds, now muddy, to the comforts of VIP and the other lounges tweaking, shaking, wiggling and ‘bending all the way ova’, as her chants of “Just Be Free” reverberates all throughout the festival.

Refills and quests to find familiar faces is all the energy I have post Bounce, and I slip into the Hip Hop nostalgia provided by Ready D. He precedes one of the most controversial acts on this year’s line up, YoungstaCPT. Many articles have been written and many pleas from the LGBTIAQ+ community and its allies to remove him from the line up for transphobic behaviour he displayed against Muzi Zuma in 2016 apparently landed on deaf ears. I walk to the edge of the crowd just to see the crowd he pulls. It’s not impressive at all. I walk back to the Martell lounge noting how the masses found other things to do while he was on stage and smile to myself. The winds of change are nigh.

The nostalgia of the 90s returns but now in the form of Kwaito/Pantsula legends Trompies. The rain persists and has turned the ground beneath our feet to sludge. In all our excitement and the energy that is Jaros on stage turns the mud into aides that allow us to slip and slide and become the Pantsula dancers we dream of as our feet become quick and fast in the mud.

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The night goes into an almost stealth mode from there. Earlier we had been handed 3D glasses with our wristbands and now the time has arrived to don them. Flying Lotus has brought his 3D show to our humble lands and we are not to be disappointed. The lighting and the imagery takes us through a journey through his hypnotic instrumentals.

The journey continues as his 3D spaceship brings us back to Azania and to the spiritual grounds of our ancestors as the drums and the voices of BCUC enchant the audience into the sustained trancelike state of enlightenment and rhythm.

DJ Maphorisa now has the task of pushing the crowd past the midnight hour to the headline act that is Kwesta. He does an amazing job but it’s almost like the volume is turned up as the Midnight Starring that is Moonchild Sanelly claims her space again on that stage in front of the audience she actually deserves.

My night ends rather abruptly. It ends midway through the uninspired performance by the headliner, Kwesta. Disappointed and now starting to feel the discomfort of my wet socks I head out to hail a Taxify, before the networks get jammed. My body sinks into a heavy sleep preparing itself for day two.

AfroPunk Day Two

31 December 2018

I awake with tired eyes. I look out the window and it seems the sun isn’t going to make it to the party today. The clouds dominate the skies and leave them in a permanent shade of grey. My AfroPunk app pushes through another notification with four buzzes on my phone. They suggest festivalgoers arrive at 3pm for day two. Dope St Jude is at 5pm. Awesome. I drift in and out of sleep, reliving moments on Instagram, until day two beckons. Dope St Jude’s lights the stage on fire. Famed as South Africa’s first king of drag, her consistency echoes beautifully on stage as her lyrics and rhymes find true north where hip-hop, queerness and her feminism intersect.

My missions send me back down to the entrance where I had caught the beginnings of an Esther Mahlangu mural on day one. Today it is finished in full Ndebele magnificence. For that moment, an hour actually, as the unfamiliar sound of Mozambican artists Azagaia provide the soundtrack, I marvel in the street art, in the artistry and the Afrocentric efforts of the outfits that colour the length and breadth of Constitution Hill. I even stop to watch as festivalgoers freshen their fades and take their hairstyles beyond their own self-defined limitations at the barbershop pop up.

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Phuzekhemisi is the pull that draws me back to the stage. A legend of Maskhandi, his presence is of such great importance. I revel in the simple lyrics that speak to that daily life and guitar melodies that bring the music home to relatable levels of a half Xhosa, half Pedi kid who grew up in the suburbs. The traditional authenticity of his dancers peaks with every leg lifted past the ears and this authenticity carries right into Muzi’s set as he drops the iconic Brenda Fassie track ‘Too Late For Mama’ laced with a fresh mix. Muzi brings the energy to the Gold Stage and we cannot even contain ourselves. A young mind with a soul so matured he has us losing our minds as he drops the theme song to S’Gudi S’nice remixed with his now signature sound so refreshing. His mother, aunt, Ausi wa ko back-opposite and his grandma too are thanked in the euphoria of the music he envelopes us in.

For an elongated minute the crowd that was steadily gathering stage front for Thandiswa Mazwai forgets about securing their spots as Muzi queues Sarafina sings of a freedom that is coming tomorrow. Next year. 2019. Tomorrow, when our collective freedom is to come.

Then Thandiswa. The rain is light and bearable as I wait, front and centre. She begins chanting from the left of the stage. She calls upon her ancestors and they hear her. Each one hears her and honours her invitation. The rain intensifies slightly. She then speaks of the significance of where we gather this evening. Speaks of those held captive within the walls that are now Constitution Hill in the yesteryears of Apartheid. They too hear her call and they too honour her invitation. The rain intensifies still. By the time she invokes the spirit of Mam’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and those of slain Trans*womxn and Black lesbian and other gender non-conforming spirits the rain is no longer light but it now falls with an intensity, presence and purpose. We sing, cry, chant, scream, dance and ululate with Thandiswa and all those who have honoured her invitation, as the rain falls hard and heavy with healing, hope and blessings.

Getting out my wet clothes is top of mind. I have a jacket in my backpack and I although uncertain of its level of dryness, it has to be better than this. I rush to the portoloos, shaking like a leaf the whole way up. I find it filled with people. More than expected. Even an ex lurks in my line of sight. I turn around and realize I have no choice. I strip by the benches, topless for a minute and in that breath I feel freedom in my nakedness and curse real life beyond these boundaries for the need of curated safe spaces. I seek shelter and warmth and drink as the show continues in a film of wonder.

Midnight is approaching and Thundercat takes to the stage. He is credited as one of the greats and is on the playlist of all your favorite hip-hop minds’ playlists. Even Pulitzer award winning Kendrick ‘Kdot’ Lamar. His reception is a mixed one and honestly between the clattering of my teeth as my body shivered its way to a reasonable temperature and festival goers pushing for a spot under my new found shelter it is difficult to gauge his performance.

The transition back to Anais B almost goes unnoticed but she brings us to thirty seconds before midnight. The masses now seemingly recovered and over the tragedy of their shoes, trudge through the mud, some sinking in puddles that swallow the foot well beyond the ankle, just to make it to the front to be a part of the countdown. To freedom perhaps…

10…

9…

8…

7…

6…

I think we skip 5…

4…

3…

2…

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Kisses.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hugs.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Fireworks.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Tears.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Insta Stories.

HAPPY NEW YEAR. KAYTRANADA!

Perfectly timed, Kaytranada has us all dancing, losing our minds. Lovers embrace. Friends embrace. Strangers embrace. From stage front to the entrance and every corner of the festival we all dance.

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The mood at Afropunk, undeniably at its peak in the New Year, we almost don’t mind the wait between Kaytranada and The Internet. The rain persists and we start chanting for The Internet to shut this festival down in the most amazing way and true to their music they do not disappoint. Fronted by Syd, who identifies as a lesbian, and who through her authenticity has made singing same sex, same love, songs normal for our sexually diverse generation. This last hour represents a beautiful transition, passage into a year that is to be defined as a year to be free. As free as Big Freedia implores us to be. As free as we believed freedom would come tomorrow. Tomorrow has come as Syd sings her love song to her girlfriend and Steve Lacy plays his guitar for his pansexual loving. Free of our pain. Free to be visible. Free of our shoes, some never to be worn again. Afropunk was an ushering to our all our freedoms, whatever they may look like.

Be Free.

This entry was posted in "Free from My Happiness", AfroPunk, Black Lesbian musician, Drag King, Hip Hop music, Music, Queer music, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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