1619, AFROPUNK and the Highway to Africa - PhMuseum

1619, AFROPUNK and the Highway to Africa

Melissa Bunni Elian

2014 - Ongoing

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa; Paris, Île-de-France, France; City of London, England, United Kingdom; Brooklyn, New York, United States

Culture is the beauty of a given population’s unique pursuit of survival and no group of people has had more global influence than African Americans fighting for freedom. For the past 400 years the descendants of Africans in America have created music to cope with slavery, violence and resist oppression.

When slave masters recognized the role “talking” drums played in various slave rebellions, they were banned, only to be replaced by voices singing in same rhythmic timing of the outlawed instrument. To pass the time in the fields sowing seeds and harvesting crops, the enslaved called out to one another responding with improvised lyrics expressing anguish, hope, truth and aspirations. Those songs, later known as Negro Spirituals, eventually gave birth to Gospel music. When Jim Crow laws prohibited all aspects of black life in the southern United States, Blues halls provided a safe space for African Americans to dance wild and be free. Around the same time, Jazz gave sound to the black cultural renaissance happening in northern cities. After World War 2, Gospel music was repurposed as the score for the Civil Rights movement. Funk captured the attitudes of African Americans recognizing and asserting their Black power. Decades later Hip-Hop artists would sample these and other Black musical forms to tell hard truths about inner city life.

At each turn, African American music travelled across a proverbial highway first carved out by the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade and AFROPUNK, in going international in 2015, is the latest vehicle through which this musical legacy continues.

AFROPUNK is well known for its fashion and music, but what has been left unexamined is the impact it's having as it expands across the globe.

1619, AFROPUNK and the Highway to Africa is a multimedia analysis that examines the ways in which the festival serves as a proxy for movement building, while paralleling it with the storied past of the African American musical canon and history. The project, based in original documentary photography and portraiture, also employs historical documents and social science to convey how the “call” of Black American music was heard internationally and the subsequent “response” seen worldwide in music, politics and culture worldwide. It focuses on the America, the United Kingdom, France and South Africa, countries that the AFROPUNK Musical Festival is hosted.

AFROPUNK is the cultural embodiment of the Black Lives Matter movement, but if its international events are left unconnected, we miss the opportunity to learn about one the biggest Black cultural shifts since the Hip-Hop era and how it replicates the past. This project challenges growing cynicism around the festival as well as the oversimplification that overshadows its impact worldwide.

AFROPUNK is a significant, yet under-reported cultural happening in 21st century. It is alternative black music, but also an alternative response to the social turmoil facing the global African Diaspora. AFROPUNK is proving to be as impactful as Hip Hop, Rock, Jazz and other African American musical that have gone global.

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