When the Afropunk festival started in 2005, it was dedicated to giving a space to black-fronted punk- and alternative-rock acts. Over the years, it has widened its lens to African American artists creating all genres of music — rock alongside hip-hop alongside jazz alongside electronic.
If the festival has traditionally been about spotlighting a wide range of music, 2019’s lineup also celebrates African American artists who themselves are working across genres. This year’s bill features many “unclassifiable” musicians, groups and soloists who have mashed up a variety of influences to create songs that defy traditional labels.
It’s the rare festival at which fans should show up as early as possible to be exposed to something new, but we’re highlighting six acts in particular that are must-sees at Commodore Barry Park this weekend.
In addition to releasing highly acclaimed albums, the Los Angeles saxophonist has written the music for an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of Art and collaborated with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to St. Vincent. The odds are strong that jazz aficionados will one day talk about Washington in reverent tones.
The singer-songwriter’s most recent single, “cellophane,” came out in April, stoking rumors of a new album on the horizon. Her first record, “LP1,” made best of 2014 lists across the media spectrum, but she’s been busy recently, too: Her most-visible moment in the U.S. may have been the Apple HomePod commercial, directed by Spike Jonze, in which she danced to an Anderson Paak song.
Toro y Moi
His 2019 release “Outer Peace” follows in the path of his accessible synth-pop and house music, with both a breezy quality and at-times incisive lyrics. He, like several other performers at Afropunk, is comfortable both alone and sharing the stage; he’s worked with rapper Travis Scott and jazz duo The Mattson 2, while remixing artists like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Tegan and Sara.
A blend of punk, electronic, hip-hop and industrial music, Death Grips has been one of the more prolific groups of the ’10s. Since forming in 2010, the Sacramento band has released several full-length albums and other mixes, EPs and assorted one-offs. But to try and define the group’s genre or make sense of its output seems to miss the point of the Grips — “experimental” is as close as one can get.
One of the hardest-working cross-medium artists, Jill Scott is a force of nature live. Her debut album turns 20 next year, but she also has an anniversary to celebrate in 2019; 20 years ago, The Roots’ “You Got Me” became one of the band’s biggest hits, and it was Scott, not featured artist Erykah Badu, who co-wrote the song. (Look for the live version of the track, where Scott’s vocals soar.)
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber
Celebrating 20 years of its particular mash of jazz, funk and R&B, Burnt Sugar brings its extraordinary live performance to Afropunk. With improvisation at its core and a near-literal army of players at its disposal, expect a career-spanning set, and the likely possibility of special guests.
Afropunk takes place on Saturday and Sunday at Commodore Barry Park, Fort Greene, afropunk.com, $70+ (single day), $130+ (two days).