Everything We Should Know About The Afropunk Genre
Afropunk has been responsible for some of the greatest songs and artists in the modern musical era, delighting music fans all across the world since it really burst onto the scene in the 1970s. Since then, Afropunk has showcased some amazing artists and songs that have gone on to become part of the culture in which they were born and had a huge impact on its audience.
What is Afropunk?
“What is Afropunk?” – if you’re unfamiliar with this unique genre, or just a little bit confused about what it is – this is probably a question you have asked yourself a few times. The truth is, this genre is not specific and is evolving all the time, that’s what makes it so unique. Afropunk does not lend itself to one specific genre and rather is made of the many sub-genres, definitions and cultures that have come to define it throughout its evolution.
For instance, the concept originated from the unacknowledged presence and influence of black people and culture within the predominantly white punk scene and Eurocentric alternative culture, has evolved into distinct, individual culture in and of itself and means so many different things to different people. It is often said that the music industry is so diverse that no one culture can be all things to all people, but Afropunk has at times challenged that assertion.
The term itself is unique. Afro: as in, born of African spirit and heritage; see also black (not always), see also rhythm and color, see also other, see also underdog. Punk: as in, rebel, opposing the simple route, imbued with a DIY ethic, looking forward with simplicity, rawness and open curiosity; see also other, see also underdog. The two terms come together to create the name Afropunk that has become synonymous with so many songs and artists around today.
Afropunk as a concept really first reared its head in the mid 1970s when music from this particular genre burst onto the scene and encapsulated fans. It has since gone on to be about so much more than just music, about liberation, about freedom, about expression and more.
Early Afropunk Songs
Black participation in rock music is something that dates back to the 1950s and possibly earlier, but the Afropunk genre didn't truly become established (or shall we say properly recognized) until around the mid 1970s when a selection of songs and artists made it impossible for fans, critics and music lovers all the world to ignore. Suffice to say, early Afropunk songs that made their way into the heart and minds (and charts) of music contributed massively to this.
Regardless of how hard we try, no one list can truly capture all the ways black musicians helped shape punk and alternative culture over the decades. There have been countless groundbreaking artists and songs that have forged the path for this remarkable genre to truly become established within the music industry. Setting aside modern stars, here are just some of our trailblazing favorites (all selected pre-2000) that have lit up the Afropunk genre from its very early days.
“Politicians In My Eyes” - Death (1975)
This one really put early Afropunk on the map and deserves to be the first entry on to the list. The Afropunk bank aptly entitled 'Death' created a link between garage rock and punk with their 1975 single, “Politicians In My Eyes.” They put it out themselves after a Columbia Records executive couldn't convince them to change their name. After decades of near obscurity, Death were rediscovered in 2009 and released the album 'N.E.W.' in 2015, marking a return for true trailblazers of Afropunk.
“These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” - Pure Hell (1978)
No Afropunk list would be even worth putting together without the inclusion of the legendary West Philadelphia band Pure Hell. Widely considered to be the first black punk band, they were also one of the first authentic American punk bands, bursting onto the scene in the early 1970s. Although not an original, their truly unique cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’' supports their claim that they contributed towards putting Afropunk into the mainstream and laid the groundwork for the success artists enjoy today.
“Pay To Cum” - Bad Brains (1980)
Bad Brains, a super-fast punk band born out of If Washington, D.C., can lay claim to being one of the most legendary Afropunk bands of the early era. This track showcased the reckless style of this group at its very best. The first-pumping “Pay To Cum” track, led by the iconic guitarist Dr. Know, is perhaps their most well-known and important offering over a lengthy career as it truly announced them on the scene. The band have been around for over 40 years and have had their fair share of drama and scandal in that time, but show no signs of letting up as they continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor within the Afropunk genre.
“Moody” - ESG (1981)
ESG - comprising the four Scroggins sisters - were regular fixtures in the charts both stateside and in Europe in the early 1980s. The band place an emphasis on what is termed as 'minimalist funk' and often take the audience on a journey of slowed-down melodies and instrumentals that are then speeded up to the delight of the crowd. Despite all their success, their debut single, “Moody,” still stands out as their greatest moment as the Afropunk genre was really starting to gather pace.
“Party At Ground Zero” - Fishbone (1985)
The 1980s were a great time for Afropunk and this was never more showcased than with this debut single from LA band Fishbone. The band were all-action, hyperactive and a true treat for their fans. During their Afropunk peak, Fishbone were truly untouchable in the genre. They had a unique ability to make the audience think about their lyrics even when losing their minds in the songs and amongst a huge crowd. They took Afropunk to another level.
“Baby Milk Snatcher” - A.R. Kane (1988)
Now to A.R Kane - made up of British duo Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala - who were truly responsible for creating some of the most unique and trailblazing music of their era. Their Afropunk legacy came to life as the duo they were always destined to be in the 1980s and 90s. They inspired all around them to test limits and with the groundbreaking track “Baby Milk Snatcher”, we saw Afropunk at its devilish and unapologetic best.
“Over My Head” - King’s X (1989)
Pioneers in the field of progressive metal, King's X were truly a band for the ages. This power trio are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. “Over My Head,” from the band’s landmark 1989 concept album Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, tackles problems with acceptance, religion, social culture and other norms that other tracks wouldn't dare contemplate. It was a huge hit.
“Soul In A Jar” - The Veldt (1994)
The brothers from North Carolina, Daniel and Danny Chavis, can perhaps lay claim to really solidifying the presence of black bands within rock music. They tested boundaries and were not afraid to test musical stereotypes, either. As such, “Soul In A Jar” became an instant underground hit, and today The Veldt are recognized and loved as true musical innovators who were well before their time.
“I’m Building A Bodacious Bodega For The Race War” - Mike Ladd (1997)
Mike Ladd's versatility is perhaps unsurpassed in music. His foray into Afropunk with this iconic contribution underlined that once and for all. The 1997 single “I’m Building A Bodacious Bodega For The Race War'' references The Iliad, Pol Pot and Snoop Dogg in a back-and-forth, make your head turn track that simply won't be ignored and laid the groundwork for more well-known artists to enter a genre they had perhaps been a little afraid of until now.
Top Afropunk Bands of 2021
Afropunk as a genre continues to go from strength to strength and much of that is owed to the pioneers who laid the groundwork for the amazing music we hear and enjoy today. Choosing the top Afropunk bands of 2021 is a thankless task but we’ve had a go and narrowed it down below.
We've mentioned them already - but you simply cannot hold a conversation about punk bands without mentioning Pure Hell. The Philadelphia group is perhaps the first black punk band to have received that much recognition in the 1970s to 1990s. Pure Hell was formed in 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has stood the test of time magnificently.
Making music for the group was a bit different because rock as a genre was dominated by white artists. The original members were Kenny "Stinker" Gordon (vocals, bass on Wild One), Michael "Spider" Sanders (percussion), Preston "Chipper" Morris ( Guitars), and Lenny "Steal" Boles (Bass). The band made their first album 'Noise Addiction' in 1978 but officially released it in 2006. Here we are in 2021 and they are still at the very top of their game.
One of the newer bands on the list, the Muslims officially started performing together in 2017. The band that is made of black and brown people is one of the newest and most loved rock and punk groups in Durham, North Carolina. The group is made up of three members, FaraH BaHbaH (drummer), QADR (vocalist & guitarist), and Abu Shea (bassist).
The Muslims get inspiration from classic punk and Afropunk roots. The Durham- based band also does rock-rap fusion, hardcore rock, and political satire. They released their recent album, 'Mayo Supreme' on 1st April 2019 and have enjoyed continued chart success and tours as of 2021.
Without a doubt one of the top Afropunk bands of 2021. The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores (OBGMs - because that's much easier!) is a Toronto based black punk band that was formed in 2007. The members are Densil McFarlane (Lead Vocals and Guitar), Colanthony Humphrey (Percussion), Jemuel Roberts (Keyboard, Vocals) and Joseph Brosnan (Bass, Vocals).
The OBGMs released their first album, 'The OBGMs' in 2014. The self-titled album talks about life, love, and failure. The group's style is a fusion of hard punk, dirty heavy fuzz and old negroe spiritual. Even with rock as their primary genre, the Canadian band still values Afropunk and has produced many hits for fans to enjoy.
This all-girl punk band was formed in London in 2013 and consists of Stephanie Phillips, Chardine Taylor-Stone and Estella Adeyeri. Big Joanie released a debut single entitled 'Sistah Punk' in 2014 and followed this up with another E.P, aptly named 'Crooked Room' in 2016. Tepahine Phillips started the group because she felt that there was little intersectionality in the music scene. She looked for the members online who shared her views on black feminism and Chardine Taylor-Stone, and Kiera Coward-Deyell showed interest and is the line-up we see today.
Big Joanie can take pride in being one of the most sought-after black female punk rock singers in the UK today, with their reputation also growing stateside and a number of tours planned as this ground goes from strength to strength as one of the big players and top Afropunk bands of 2021.
The Brother Moves On
The Brother Moves On (TBMO) is one of the best black rock bands in Africa. The group, which is from Kempton Park, South Africa, was formed around 2008. TBMO had established themselves as graphics and fine artists before moving to rock music. Nkululeko Mthembu and his brother Siyabonga Mthembu first worked as a duo before the other members joined in. Currently, the band has five members who perform all around South Africa and Africa. The Mthembu brothers came up with the name as they were watching the TV series 'The Wire'. The American TV show has a character named The Brother Mouzone. It is from the fictional character that the brothers derived their name. TBMO has four albums and EPs to their name. They released their debut album 'A New Myth' in 2013.
Fishbone have been a constant on the Afropunk scene for over 40 years now. The original band was formed in 1979 in Los Angeles. The group was labelled as being diverse and distinct. Other than punk rock, they also delved in different genres like funk, soul, reggae, and ska. Original members include Angelo Moore (Saxophone, vocals), John Norwood Fisher (bass), Walter Adam Kibby II (trumpet), Philip "Fish" Fisher (drums), Kendall Jones (guitar), and Christopher Dowd (keyboards, trombone, vocals). Fishbone's rise to fame was due to the subjects they covered in their black punk rock. They sang about social issues like broken families, racism, nuclear war, fascism, and justice. The body of work they have produced is staggering and with a new album in 2020, they remain in the hearts and minds of Afropunk fans across the globe.
Unlocking The Truth
Unlocking The Truth was formed in Brooklyn, New York 15 years ago. The band consists of Malcolm Brickhouse (guitar, vocals), Jarad Dawkins (drums), and Alec Atkins (bass). The trio formed the band in 2007 and their first noteworthy show was in Times Square when they were 11. They have since performed in mega concerts and festivals like Coachella Musis & Arts Festival, Heavy Montreal and Lunatic Luau.
The band's style can be described as old-school metal blended with contemporary sounds. They are hailed for their speed punk and alternative rock wherever they perform. The Brooklyn band released an album, 'Chaos' in 2016. Black punk bands have done an excellent job in creating their art and beating cultural stereotypes. Pop culture has also contributed to the growth of rock music as a genre in general. Many of the pioneer bands are still active today, having shows in different parts of the world and making new music for their fans.
How Popular is Afropunk?
So, just how popular is Afropunk? Afropunk as a genre has only grown and grown in popularity as the years have gone by. The secret of the success of this kind of music is that it is so much more than just a genre. In fact, it is so much more than just about music. It is about culture, about equality, about acceptance, about black strength, about pride and of course, about some pretty cool tracks, too.
The popularity of Afropunk in the last 50 years has grown to such a degree that there exists millions of dedicated fans all across the world that buy the music, idolize the culture and, indeed, come from far and wide to enjoy their favorite artists perform at the now iconic 'Afropunk Festival'.
Afropunk Festival was originally conceived following the release of a short film entitled Afro-Punk (2003) produced by Matthew Morgan. Following the film's release, Morgan joined forces with music industry expert and eventual Afropunk festival co-founder, Jocelyn Cooper.
They decided that they should set out to fill the void in the music market with an event that celebrates the merging of art, activism and black punk culture. The result was Afropunk Festival, born in Brooklyn in 2004 it has since spawned events in Atlanta and Paris in 2015 as the festival and genre more widely continues to grow. Afropunk 2022 welcomed crowds of over 60,000 and continues to grow globally, with calls for more festival venues to be added across the world, displaying the popularity of Afropunk.
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