No Sexism. No Racism. No Ableism. No Ageism. No Homophobia. No Fatphobia. No Transphobia. No Hate. That's the mantra of Afropunk and it's made loud and clear from the moment you arrive at the festival. It's a safe place for anyone that is being targeted by the current nightmare of our political administration and a celebration of everything that makes us all unique.
The pride and positivity felt particularly strong on Saturday afternoon as the festival was mobbed with a sold-out crowd. Despite the close to perfect weather conditions, the sheer size of the crowd made Saturday overwhelming and trekking across the grounds felt next to impossible. As Thundercat took to the stage in the early evening, he dazzled the crowd with his dexterity, reaching across the fretboard of his six-stringed bass with ease and finesse. His jazzed-out funk felt more complex live and the sound didn't do him and his bands any favors as they tried to showcase each of their talents. At times things felt slightly out of sync, but Thundercat's sense of humor between songs and ability to entertain made the set enjoyable none the less. "Friend Zone" and "Them Changes" from this year's Drunk felt particularly groovy and were two of the highlights of his show.
Sampha took the stage as the sun was beginning to set and the golden hue heightened the mood of the crowd and allowed him to deliver a wonderful and electric performance. With his lush, sultry voice, Sampha crooned his tunes with poise and power. His vocal ability was in fine form and his band was the perfect assistance he needed to make his songs come to life. Process is a pristine record and Sampha translates that sound live like few others. It's clear the amount of effort he spends to make sure that nothing is sacrificed when performed in front of a crowd. His solo take of "No One Knows Me Like the Piano" was a splendid moment of deep emotions and proved that he could deliver even without the accompaniment of his band.
After some technically difficulties delayed the start of her set, Solange kicked off her third performance in the city in just under a month. Like she did at Panorama in July and with Dave Chappelle at Radio City last week (and like she'll must likely do again at that same venue, but now with Earl Sweatshirt in October), Solange presented her phenomenal show with power, confidence, and total domination. Despite her numerous performance in such a short amount of time, nothing was taken for granted here and Solange performed as if she was doing this for the very first time. With the stage drenched in a bold, red light, she lead her band through stunning choreography and chemistry. The balance spread across the stage was cosmic and each member of the band channeled an energy that displayed their passion and motivation to allow this creative piece to come to life. Solange took the reigns with conviction. Her manner was calm and commanding. She graced the stage with her beauty and talent and held the crowd in the palm of her hands. Hits from last year's mesmerizing A Seat at the Table were met with resounding cheer and Solange really let loose, jumping into the crowd and clarifying that she was not the one holding up the show earlier in the night. "When this beat drops, I want this place to become a fucking disco" she announced before launching into "Losing You". She was ready to go. "Cranes in the Sky" and "F.U.B.U." saw massive responses from the crowd, but when she closed with "Don't Touch My Hair," the crowd became euphoric and when Sampha joined her for the chorus, the audience reached the emotional peak of the day.
The crowd on Sunday was a bit more sparse than the day before making it much easier to navigate the grounds. However, while the festival recovered in terms of crowd control, it suffered from technical difficulties. Acts were consistently running fifteen minutes behind schedule creating even more set overlaps than previously planned.
Despite his late start, grime legend and pioneer Dizzee Rascal took over the Red Stage with pure force and fury. He lit up the crowd with a heavy dose and sharp, chaotic hooks that only he can produce. Covering a healthy dose of new material, he also dipped into some of his older hits and never let the momentum die. The crowd really moved to the set as well and fed the energy right back on stage. By the time "Fix Up, Look Sharp" hit, the crowd went bonkers and the show felt like it had hit its pinnacle moment.
Luckily for Anderson .Paak, his delayed set allowed for him to use the nightfall to his abilities and set forth a wondrous performance that truly showcased his superior talents. Drawing one of the largest crowds of the weekend, .Paak and his backing band, the Free Nationals, unleashed some stellar sonic moments full of bright ideas and larger than life conceptions. Whether it was hyping the crowd by running back and forth across the stage or laying down an incredible solo behind his drum quit, Anderson proved why he's a rising star. From the moment he set foot onstage, he never took his foot off the gas. It was a constant adrenaline rush to the heart and the only artist to challenge Solange for best production and light show. And just when it felt like .Paak had truly pushed himself to the edge, Talib Kweli joined him onstage inciting a rush of nirvana across the crowd.
Over on the Gold Stage, Kaytranada was deep in a propulsive DJ set that had an overflowing crowd to help close out the weekend. As soon as Anderson .Paak finished his own set, he rushed over to join the set and drop a jubilant rendition of "Glowed Up" and wished Kaytranada a happy birthday before allowing the DJ to resume his show. The rest of the set proved to still be infectious, buoyant, and groove heavy. It was an exciting finish to a weekend full of peace and harmonious vibes. Even when the crowd was at the peak capacity, people stayed calm and collected. Maneuvering through the masses was never a hassle and proved over and over again that the festival's message and purpose of being inclusive and respectful was direct and clear. More than a music festival, Afropunk was a gathering of truth, pride, and celebration.