The folks behind New York’s Afropunk festival want to clear up one possible misconception about their satellite event this weekend: They picked Minneapolis because of the good things about this city, not the bad.
“Prince, Jam and Lewis, Morris Day & the Time, First Avenue and all of that legendary stuff,” producer and creative director Anthony Maddox listed off, also citing the city’s relatively diverse population of Somali and other African immigrants.
As for Minneapolis’ all-too-well-known struggles with racial injustice, he said, “Afropunk is more just the canvas. We give musicians and activists the platform to speak. However they want to amplify their message, it’s their message.”
Launched in 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music — based off a 2003 documentary of the same name — Afropunk has evolved over 17 years from a festival literally centered on punk music. It’s now a website, promotions company and all-out brand that spotlights “alternative Black culture.” That’s quite a broad definition these days.
This weekend’s Minneapolis installment is a testament to that wide swath.
The centerpiece event is a ticketed one-day music fest in a parking lot next to northeast Minneapolis’ Sheridan Memorial Park, which is doubling as a Juneteenth celebration. Sunday’s 16 scheduled performers are about half-and-half national touring acts and a very well curated selection of young Twin Cities buzzmakers.
Three women top the lineup, a purposeful booking twist that Maddox called “something unique we did for Minneapolis.” They are: brassy and semi-bluesy R&B singer Ari Lennox, who landed the viral hits “Shea Butter Baby” and “Pressure” via J. Cole’s record label; Chicago’s already locally adored wordsmith Noname, and another J. Cole protégée from Atlanta, Mereba.
“This is Ari’s first time headlining in Minneapolis, so for her and several other artists, it’s exciting just to try to make a splash in this cool new market,” Maddox said.
“A lot of [Midwest] cities outside of Chicago can be seen as flyover cities, so it was important to us to include acts that don’t normally have Minneapolis on their route.”
Other touring acts will include innovative Seattle DJ/producer Sango, funky Chicago neo-soul singer Dreamer Isioma and Alabama-rooted Dirty South revivalist rapper Pink Siifu.
Among the talent representing the Twin Cities at Afropunk are: poppy soukous-flavored rocker Miloe; stylish rapper Ricki Monique; cosmically groovy producer/singer MMYYKK; bombastic rap duo Blood $moke Body, and two standouts from First Ave’s latest Best New Bands showcase, Evv and Papa Mbye.
After coming to the Twin Cities a few years ago to work with students at St. Paul’s reputable High School for Recording Arts, Maddox said he was “blown away by all the young talent there.
“We actually wanted to have more local acts, but were limited because it’s only one day and there are sound ordinances and whatnot,” he said.
As was the case with Afropunk’s other offshoot festival in Miami last month, hip-hop music factors heavily in the Minneapolis lineup. Afropunk organizers have actually faced some blowback in recent years for featuring rappers that fall into more of a mainstream aesthetic than the underground ethos originally behind the event.
Maddox, however, believes hip-hop and punk are “sort of roommates.”
“Hip-hop was very punk going back to the ’70s and ’80s with Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C. and Blondie, and all the spiked belts and other punk looks,” he said. “A lot of artists now are going back to that more rebellious vibe, I think.
“We look for the hip-hop that’s emblematic of our community and that’s very inclusive, so we’re not dealing in hip-hop that our team would deem problematic. But at the same time, we don’t want to exclude any artists that are taking risks and pushing the boundaries.”
As the festival’s range of music gets wider and wider, though, it further begs the question: What exactly qualifies as “Afropunk” nowadays?
Shauna Gray, Afropunk’s head of business development, said, “The way we define ‘punk’ has absolutely evolved.
“It’s now related to audience members living their lives in the most authentic way, the most underserved, the most marginalized in our community. So it’s evolved from being about a certain music genre to being more about local and underserved communities.”
Organizers also will host panels with Black entrepreneurs, musicians and community leaders this weekend at the Get Down Coffee Co. in north Minneapolis, part of a partnership with Twin Cities-based retail giant Target supporting small Black businesses nationwide. Check the website Afropunk.com for the updated Get Down schedule.
While it maintains the goal of supporting Black artists and entrepreneurs, Afropunk’s team hopes the audience at Sunday’s music fest is a diverse representation of the city.
“When the mission is to support marginalized artists and provide exposure to them, it’s important to welcome as broad a community as possible,” Gray said.
Higher attendance won’t just benefit the performers. It will also help guarantee that Afropunk isn’t just a one-and-done event in Minneapolis.
Maddox wouldn’t make any promises, but he sounded hopeful there will be another festival here in the coming years: “We’re excited about the reception so far, and excited knowing this is a community that doesn’t get bigger festivals like this. That’s all the more incentive.”
As for the current state of affairs in Minneapolis, he added, “We are very aware of the troubled climate there.
“We’re not coming in as the magic changemaker, but we are coming in to provide a platform while we also celebrate the community there.”
With: Ari Lennox, Noname, Mereba, Miloe, Sango, Evv, Ricki Monique, more.
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Where: A parking lot next to Sheridan Memorial Park, 1300 NE. Water St., Mpls.
Tickets: $70, afropunk.com.