Afropunk blossomed from its Brooklyn seedling back when the festivities were free and reserved for society’s outcasts. 2023’s Afropunk Brooklyn: Circus of Soul was held Aug. 26 and Aug. 27 at Greenpoint Terminal Park. Attendees showed off their best festival-meets-punk outfits with floral, gold, and pastel colors everywhere. Sunday’s big night brought out performances from Brooklyn’s own Joey Bada$$ and Harlem’s Teyana Taylor.

Afropunk, which began in 2005, is an organization that celebrates Black culture and diversity through art, food, fashion, music, and community. The unity of Black alternatives, now owned by Essence, has become a global success. Essence CEO Caroline A. Wanga was in attendance sporting a unique circus ringleader outfit, fitting for the occasion. The festival’s DJ played Brooklyn hits, including songs from Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Bilge, and the crowd was very responsive as they sang and danced along. This celebration of Black people and culture provided a space for local art galleries, like Calabar Gallery, and restaurants like Bushwick Grind Café. Bushwick Grind Café, a Black-owned specialty coffee business, opened eight years ago, only selling coffee before increasing the menu.
“After we were in our space for a year, [we noticed] there was a lack of healthy food options [in the area],” said Kymme Williams-Davis, the owner. She said the over-placement of fast-food restaurants gave her and her husband the idea to have healthy, specialty options. “We had a responsibility to do something.” Bushwick Grind Café became an alternative to the usual unhealthy food choices. The business now does catering from One World Trade to the Brooklyn Museum, according to Williams-Davis. The company is also actively feeding those in need by hosting community fridges.

Bushwick Grind Café actively showed Black culture at Afropunk with their popular vegan specialty toast, including spicy ackee and jackfruit. “Coming to Afropunk, we had to diversify,” said the owner. All their toast specialties are made daily with fresh hard dough bread, thanks to the baker they partnered with. Williams-Davis also brought the restaurant’s most popular drink, the Yoncé, to the festival. The drink is a watermelon hibiscus lemonade the business created during Beyoncé’s 2016 Lemonade era.

Brenika Banks photos

Attendees enjoyed the food vendors, art, and fashion until musical artists hit the stage. Rapper and singer Baby Tate hit the main stage and violinist and singer Sudan Archives. One artist excited about his time at Afropunk Brooklyn was Houston, Texas, singer and songwriter Jack Freeman. The R&B singer enjoys making love songs and helping people fall in love. He described his set as “dope” and “a lot” of fun. Freeman shared that he is used to crowds due to highly stressful football situations in his younger days. “But when you get on that stage, it’s just fun for me,” he said. “Go out there and sing some songs that you wrote for people that may or may not have heard it before.”

Freeman performed his original songs “My Love” and “Nobody” and a new song, “Shine.” He has plenty of records new and old fans can enjoy, and his new project, “Nina,” will be available in a few weeks. Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Bryan-Michael Cox will executive produce Freeman’s upcoming project. Cox was on stage with Freeman during his afternoon set. He was happy to be a part of Afropunk this year and welcomes opportunities for his music to reach more people.

“You have to reach out to Black people if you’re making Black music,” said Freeman. “I love Black people, I love Black women, I love Black everything.”
“I’m into Black [stuff],” said Cox, sharing similar sentiments. Freeman understands the importance of Black people’s unity for this event to highlight great things happening in the culture. Freeman said he wants his legacy to be one that is led by the truth.
“I want make the music that feels good to me—I want to tell the truth,” he said. Aside from music, he also anticipates leaving his mark in business. “[I want to] help as many people as possible along the way.”

The crowd was very excited and receptive to Joey Bada$$, who wore a Bed-Stuy shirt, representing his neighborhood. Sunday night was his very first Afropunk Fest. He performed fan favorites like “Survival Tactics,” “Show Me,” and “Where I Belong.” He told the audience that performing in Brooklyn is like a reunion. “Brooklyn, I [freaking] love you,” he said, wishing the crowd peace, happiness and success before departing the stage.
Bada$$ thanked everyone for enjoying his show, especially new fans. “Pay close attention to what’s going to happen next,” he said. “I will keep expanding my sound, expressing myself through these different outlets of music, TV and film.” He hopes he can leave a legacy behind “to be inspired” and help people “follow their dreams.” The rapper also aspires for younger people to, “lean into their fears and creativity…. That’s a big part of life. The best thing in life is on the opposite side of fear,” said Bada$$.

Teyana Taylor concluded Afropunk with her performance representing Harlem. She wooed the crowd with Erykah Badu’s “Next Lifetime,” as well as her songs “Rose in Harlem” and “Hold On.” She performed a sexy rendition of “Morning.” Taylor jumped off the stage into the crowd at one point, much to the audience’s pleasure. She even brought her children and husband, Iman Shumpert, on stage to spread love the Brooklyn way.

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