Afropunk: Through the Ears of a Musician

By Robert Sanders III

With another summer winding down, the time has come to start penciling in a last hurrah here, a last hurrah there (…a last hurrah everywhere), but the hurrah to end all hurrahs took place this past weekend in Brooklyn. What started out as a group of black people getting together to share their love of punk rock (as well as African American artists a part of the punk rock diaspora such as Tamar-kali, Bad Brains and Wesley Willis) at any given bar, has turned into a thriving component of the NY summer concert calendar complete with a bevy of bands. The Afro Punk Festival has morphed into a weekend-long explosion of bands, skaters, bikers, food vendors, social activists, and even a morning session of Yoga to prepare the body (and soul) for two days of grooving and moving in Fort Greene.

Photo credit to Robert Sanders III

Vintage Trouble
Photo credit to Robert Sanders III

This year’s lineup included headliners, ?uestlove (taking time from drumming duties for The Roots to crate dig), poet and all around Renaissance man Saul Williams, and Public Enemy founder Chuck D., but the standout band for this writer was Vintage Trouble. This LA-based quartet, fronted by Ty Taylor, made a name for themselves with their throwback sound reminiscent of Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Otis Redding. They kicked off with a rousing “High Times are Coming”. Driven by a soulful, crowd shaking blues rock, Vintage Trouble moved into a bluesy number built on a rocking one-four-five that would make Keith Richards blush called “Papa Was a Blues Man”, straddling the line between an authentic Jamaican riddim and a blues-rock effort much in the style of Ike Turner mixed with Bunny Wailer. The third number, “Nancy Lee,” started with a story of how the singers’ parents met, diving into a bluesy ditty about meeting a beautiful country gal. The song included the line “I see you Nancy Lee,” which came back to a call and response of the same line with the crowd. Their next tune was called “Pelvis Pusher” which was anchored by a straight-ahead drum/guitar riff with the standout line “1-2-3 push your pelvis with me.” Although the band can be categorized as “retro rock,” there was a vibe of positivity that emanated throughout their music, as was equally apparent in their song “Nobody Told Me” with the chorus done in 3 part harmony. Their final number, “Run Outta You,” had the crowd clapping on the two and four so dynamically that the vocalist came out into the audience to really get the crowd going.

Other notable highlights included rapper Jean Grae, who brought out Pharoahe Monch during her set, but also highlighted her own versatility by freestyling a few bars, singing a few lines over a Prohibition-era song replete with a 20’s style jungle groove, and jamming with a live band that covered The Isley Brothers classic “Between the Sheets” (made famous when Chris Wallace sampled it for “Big Poppa”). This was my second time seeing Grae and, without fail, she put on an amazing show by highlighting her own depth and breadth.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a head nod to trio Unlocking the Truth. This Brooklyn-based heavy metal outfit is composed of 11 year-olds Malcolm Brickhouse, Jared Dawkins and Alec Atkins. It’s not every day you see young black teenagers ripping the shit out of metal! They were followed by Wicked Wisdom, JadaPinkett Smith’s heavy metal band, and as much as I enjoy watching MILFs own a stage via hardcore rock, Unlocking the Truth played Wicked Wisdom under the table, hands down. Or up.

?uestlove Photo credit to Robert Sanders III

Photo credit to Robert Sanders III

The second day was equally incredible, with NJ-based Sunny Gang opening the day with their unique blend of rap and rock, followed by Pyyramids, whose cover of PJ Harvery’s “Rid of Me” was haunting. I hate that I missed trio, Death (an R&B-turned-metal band from the 70’s), but brothers had to take advantage of the amazing food trucks that abounded (I won’t bore you with what I munched on, but big ups to food truck Toum for the delicious Lebanese food)!

“Queen diva” and “dick eater” (his words…), Big Freedia stole the show on the second stage and second day of the festival with an Earth-quaking bounce rendition of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock. The undisputed leader of the bounce movement commanded the stage, along with his slew of beautiful dancers. He even pulled a good fifteen people on stage to twerk for one song. One dude actually had on feathers, making the scene equally apt for shaking a tail feather.

The Afro Punk Festival concluded with ?uestlove on the 1’s and 2’s, spinning classics in addition to playing obscure songs that we all know from being sampled in this song or another. It was a great way to end one of the great last hurrahs of summer, if it has to be done…

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