Jocelyn Cooper
Jocelyn Cooper
Image: Supplied

Afropunk arrives in Africa for the first time when the revered international festival takes over Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on December 30 and 31 2017. It boasts an eclectic line-up that includes international alt-R&B icons Solange, Anderson.Paak and Laura Mvula, discohouse DJ genius Theo Parrish, and bleeding-edge locals Nakhane, The Brother Moves On, King Tha vs BLK JKS, and gqom pioneer DJ Lag.

As we find out from chatting to festival co-founder Jocelyn Cooper, Afropunk — which has been partly facilitated with the support of Martell — is more than just a way to while away the New Year: it’s an engaged experience rooted in craft and community. “Black heaven” is how Jocelyn Cooper’s friends described the New York edition of Afropunk this year. This isn’t Oppikoppi: this is as conscious as a festival gets.

The Afropunk festival blossomed from the 2003 documentary of the same name, a work “documenting a subculture of a subculture”, according to Cooper. “Kids that loved punk music, but felt isolated from the scene.”

This “othered” black kid is the festival’s primary target, but as the film’s reach widened — from DIY film screenings to music gigs — the punk leanings loosened and its scope broadened to include searing work from across the black music spectrum.

“We do celebrate black excellence and alternative culture,” Cooper says. “But the platform is open to everyone. The New York Times quotes us as being the most multicultural festival in the world, and it is.” It’s also the most colourful: “Still the most stylish festival I’ve ever been to,” Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff wrote in the Guardian earlier this year.

There’s an ethos behind this particularly political party: “No sexism, no racism, no ableism, no ageism, no homophobia, no fatphobia, no transphobia” and it’s displayed proudly and prominently at the events, which have spread from Brooklyn and Atlanta to Paris, London and more. “It’s important for our community that a big part of the festival is activism,” Cooper says. “We have a young community that wants to be engaged — that wants to make a difference in the world — and it’s important for us to create a platform, to create access to make change.”

This community is found online on Afropunk.com, which is explicitly political — articles are tagged with words and phrases such as “race”, “sex & gender”, “activism” — and on social media. Cooper reckons their digital reach is about 20-million people.

“We are very excited about the idea of bringing all of our community from around the world to Johannesburg,” Cooper says. “The amazing musicians we’re showcasing, the art, the vendors, the makers, the crafters, the food — just all of the culture of South Africa on display.”

Add to this some stellar international performers. Solange has been thrilling audiences — including one at the Guggenheim Museum earlier this year — with a live show that should be worth the ticket price alone. Theo Parrish is one of the most educated dance-music selectors in history.

Regarding the line-up, Cooper says: “My partner Matthew Morgan handles 95% of the bookings, and he is really inspired by a theme, or a feeling. What he wants to create is an experience, musically and visually.

Also, what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in politics, what’s happening in a particular community that we need to highlight. “This year we were absolutely inspired by South Africa,” she adds. “There’s been a piece of South Africa in every festival we’ve done. We were completely inspired by the South African Constitution.”

Explaining what to expect at Afropunk, Cooper describes it as “a homecoming. We’re hoping that the people who are coming from all over the world are excited to be in Joburg.

“What people should expect is a celebration of the best of South Africa, from musicians to all the satellite events — film screenings, conversations, and talks and events and parties. Our community is going to be fully showcased at the festival. The best and the brightest.”

So does Cooper have any tips for surviving Afropunk? “Surviving?” she gasps. “No, you come and you thrive — there’s nothing to survive! Come and be free and enjoy. It is one of the most beautiful, joyous celebrations I’ve been privileged to be a part of in my life.”

JOCELYN COOPER’S MUST-SEES AND DOS AT AFROPUNK

BLACK MOTION

“They are truly amazing live.”

SPOEK MATHAMBO

“I’ve never seen him live, but I absolutely love his music.”

THEO PARRISH

“I know house music is important in South Africa – he’s very excited and we’re super-excited.”

ANDERSON.PAAK

“One of the most brilliant performers I’ve seen in the last 10 years – he’s extraordinary: a force.”

SOLANGE

“She’e performed for us in Brooklyn and Atlanta – her performance is extraordinary and the message of her record, A Seat at the Table, has changed the idea of how women are seeing their place in the world. It’s not to be missed.”

EVERYTHING NON-MUSIC

“We have a fashion show, a capsule collection — vintage and young designers — that we’re gonna be showcasing at South African Fashion Week. What I get most excited about are the crafters, the makers — I don’t think people outside South Africa understand just how genius they are. It’s extraordinary to me and I’m on a mission to showcase it to the world.”

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