A weekend blessed with fun, acceptance and music...
Kelis

Standing in a field within New York's revived Brooklyn borough, it's hardly difficult to not fall in love with whatever art is put in front of you. Here, and in it's 10th year, is Afropunk Fest. Labelled after the 2003 cult film 'Afro-Punk' - a film which spotlighted Black Punks in America with a towering influence - Afropunk Fest has become a mainstay of Brooklyn life each year. Although in its first year of admission charges, the people of this neighbourhood were undeterred; this year's edition was primed with its most eclectic line-up yet.

Over 30,000 people forced themselves into Commodore Barry Park; a measly park considering its 10 squared acre space. People of all generations, ethnicity and background lined the pathways and fields that took over the inner city arena as every sense routinely became aroused - the vivid colours worn upon the traditional African dresses, smells from Columbia, Mexico and Korea permeating from the rusty food vans and of course the one reason these partygoers are all here; the music.

The impact Saturday's artists had on their audience was abundantly clear. Former house pin-up Kelis, her hair slightly less fuelled by her individuality that made her a mainstay with her crowd of pink wearing haired followers. Ms Lauryn Hill and her readymade 'fuck you' attitude to dis-integration. Grace Jones the maverick. All obvious from one sweep around.

Kelis has evolved from her snappy former-self, an identity that was still present up until last year, into a 1970s reincarnation of Rose Royce. Her grooves now loose and piano led through tracks from 2014's 'Food', she brought back 'Trick Me' and a Cyndi Lauper spliced 'Milkshake'. There was less dancing, more vocal emphasis. She's a woman reforming.

And Ms Lauryn Hill felt similar. Around these parts the previous The Fugees member is an icon. We've waited a while for her return. Under the sweltering mid-evening heat 'Peace Of Mind' and 'Ex-Factor' were merged to create a Hill-medley, but after arriving well over 40 minutes late for her set, she was cut off mid-flow. Power gone, so too Lauryn.

Across the other stages throughout the weekend riotous music also took place. Californian post-hardcore outfit Letlive were seething; cooly conflicting the anarchic undertone of their racouse sound that's punctuated by Jason Butler's harsh onstage persona with nostalgic tales of the groups survival to the present day. Death Grips mutinous.

Bloc Party frontman Kele showed them up. The only British artist present across the three stages, he followed Hill's suit - a 50 minute assortment of dingy electro and inspiring house. He was so intense; fired up with champagne, his shirt lasted barely 10 minutes as his abs danced across the stage. 'Everything You Wanted' and 'Rise' dark. 'Tenderoni' slightly smoother.

Both Green Stage headliners proved the pulling power Afropunk Fest has. Grace Jones' costumes moved between strange Dr Who alien to an extra in 'Live and Let Die' before she finally decided to get naked - coated only in body paint. All in front of her mother too. The 67-year old has a knack of being the Queen of Outlandishness and so it proved. 'Slave to the Rhythm' saw Jones dust off her hula hoop and her roots that are formed deeply from Jamica were naturally explained and celebrated.

It was followed by Sunday night's offering of Lenny Kravitz. A man who has been somewhat out of the limelight for a few years until his - as Kele put it - "willy fell out" on stage recently, he produced a monstrously vast set. Blues jams merged with 'American Woman', the still crisp 'It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over' before a rousing 'Fly Away' send off. Backed by a choir of gospel singers, he embraced the African influence that is present at the very crux of Afropunk.

Afropunk's 'No' to the phobias mantra remains this festival's heartbeat. It's a balanced blend and one that truly epitomises exactly what Afro Punk stands for. It's all about the community - and this weekend has restored faith that fun, acceptance and music can be experienced in a nation so often out of tune with itself.

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Words: Clive Hammond

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