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Afropunk Brooklyn 2017
Photograph: Nicole Fara Silver

The five best things we saw at Afropunk Brooklyn on Saturday

Written by
Time Out New York Music

Next to the stage, where most music festivals might post a logo or an advertisement, Afropunk Brooklyn lists these rules in large font: “No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness.” How did the audience take those instructions? The merch table I saw had already sold out of a t-shirt featuring the phrases by midday (no word if there's more on order for day two). With four stages and more music than any one person could conceivably see, Afropunk Brooklyn's 12th edition filled Commodore Barry Park to the brim on day one. Here are the five best things we saw at the festival's first day.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Afropunk Festival 2017

1. Solange's end-of-summer encore

Photograph: Nicole Fara Silver

In a few short months Solange's powerful stage show, in support of A Seat at the Table, has gone from a rarity to a near-monthly occurrence. In May, she debuted the arrangements and movements for a small crowd at the Guggenheim. In July, she brought the songs to a big stage and dazzled at Panorama Festival. Now, in August, she played with Dave Chappelle at Radio City and headlined Afropunk's first night. Having seen three of those, I can say each performance has been near flawless, and each has gotten a bit looser and more comfortable. The minimalism of "Weary" and the full-band bounce of "F.U.B.U." stood out here, with a special bonus when Sampha joined to sing his parts on "Don't Touch My Hair." The announcements about "technical difficulties" were worrying but the impressively unvarnished singing more than made up for the 30-minute delay ("And just for the record...they ain't gonna say I was back there touching my wig, I was ready," Solange quipped). Don't worry: She's back for her own Radio City concert in October.—Andrew Frisicano

2. Fashion that was so fresh, so chic and so inspiring

Photograph: Nicole Fara Silver

At some summer music festivals (like, ahem, Governors Ball or Panorama), the style vibe can be more 2012 Coachella than fashion capital of the world. Afropunk is different. On Saturday, the crowd at Commodore Barry Park was chic as hell. The fest itself revolves around bucking commercial and political power structures, and that sentiment was reflected in its attendees' garb. We unleashed photographer Nicole Fara Silver to document some of the best looks at the fest, and we'll be updating them all weekend long right here.—Clayton Guse

3. SZA is in CTRL

SZA opened the summer by releasing one of the year's best albums, CTRL, a mix of neosoul Baduisms, airy pop hooks, hip-hop attitude and relationship straight talk. Clearly it's had an impact: From beginning to end, even the folks in the back mouthed along from "Supermodel" on. Floating and twirling across the stage, the singer apologized to her mom, in the audience, before launching into the sex-forward "Doves in the Wind." Any self-consciousness evaporated with the song's frequent incantation, "pussy," as SZA jumped to punctuate each word.—AF 

4. Brand activations that actually mean something

Photograph: Clayton Guse

Afropunk also serves a springboard for attendees to become more politically active. This year's fest is promoting a #NoHate campaign, which was front and center at “Activism Row” near the Green Stage. There, more than a dozen nonprofit organizations set up installations promoting messages much more salient than the Samsung or Vita Coco booths that you're used to seeing at music festivals. Planned Parenthood gave out postcards. The Kalal Center pushed for the closure of Rikers Island. HeadCount helped New Yorkers register for the upcoming municipal primary and general elections. On the other side of the park, an art installation dubbed #NoMoreBlackTargets had passersby color in silhouette shooting range targets next to a blown-up printout of a New York Times front page detailing the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This summer, the American political discourse is more dire than it has been in a generation. Afropunk looks that straight in the eye, and demands that its sardine-packed crowd give a shit about civic participation.—CG

5. serpentwithfeet offer some ear candy

A little after 6pm, the festival suddenly felt very sold out right as attendees tried to cram past a bottleneck between stages to find a spot for Willow Smith's set. I gave up and found myself at the festival's Black stage, positioned halfway into field of the main area, where serpentwithfeet, the goth gospel project of singer Josiah Wise, performed in front of a engaged contingent. When I arrived he was instructing people to say "It's so easy to love you" to a neighbor, then another neighbor. The message of love continued, with Wise adding, "This is very Oprah but I also love Oprah." Wise likened the space to a living room, and it did feel quite cozy, especially compared to the crush of bodies a few minutes. "There's a little candy by the lamp," he added. Like all good house shows, this one got broken up. A voice came over the wrong PA channel and started testing a mic mid-song. Wise took it in stride, ad libbing in his sermon-like delivery, before closing the set.—AF

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