How The AfroPunk Festival Continues to Grow While Maintaining Its Roots
AFROPUNK'S DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS, MANUSKA MAGLOIRE, ON WHAT KEEPS THE FESTIVAL GROUNDED.
This weekend marks the annual AfroPunk Festival held at Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, NY. Initially sparked by James Spooner's 2003 documentary about Black youths finding their place in the Punk and Hardcore scenes, the AfroPunk movement has grown into an immersive 2 day festival that celebrates the music, art, and style of Black culture. Co-founded and run by Matthew Morgan and Jocelyn Cooper, the festival has now branched out into multiple markets, spreading its influence and gathering like-minded millennials in London, Paris, and Atlanta.
Despite it’s massive growth, part of AfroPunk’s mission is to continue to embrace the dual notions of otherness and inclusion, and to stay grounded in the community from which it sprang. Leading up that effort is Manushka Magloire, AfroPunk’s director of Community Affairs. Magloire made her name working in brand marketing, event management, and content production for the likes of Virgin Mobile, CentricTV, and Vibe. Wearing multiple hats behind the scenes of AfroPunk, grinding tirelessly to engage youth and foster community relations is hard work and that's what keeps Magloire driven, challenged, and ultimately satisfied. "This is literally where passion, purpose, and profits all coalesce and come together in a very real way for me,” says Magloire. “I'm involved and I have a personal stake in this. I can't see myself doing anything else right now because this is something that fills my spirit.”
Ahead of the weekend’s festivities, Marley Natural spoke with Magloire to find out a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes and how the festival is affecting change in the community.
What was your first experience with AfroPunk?
I first went to AfroPunk in 2009. It was the first year that it was in the BAM parking lot. I even remember the outfit I wore that day too. [Laughs] It had that kind of sensory impact on me. I had never seen that many fly brown people and so many shades that were so dope and interesting looking in one spot. All I could do was pay attention to what the my eyes were taking in, the different smells of shea butter and musk oil, the locs and septum rings. There were kids running around on BMX bikes. That left a lasting impact. I will absolutely always remember that day.
“AFROPUNK WAS BRED OUT OF AN OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE A SAFE SPACE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANTED TO FEEL EMBOLDENED IN THEIR OTHERNESS.”
What's a typical day in the office like for you?
A typical day for me is actually quite atypical. I wear many hats. I work on some of our strategic partnerships. I do some of the content as well. The beauty of AfroPunk is that there is an aperture for you to step into whatever you’re interested in. Because we're so small and grass roots and nimble, if you can step up to it, you can do it. So a typical day involves lots of emails and conference calls with civic organizations, city officials and brands. I spend a lot of time trying to ideate how we can blow out partnerships that are community and media based, so we can explore the grant funding as well. There's a lot of money on the table that we as a community are not aware of. Like for example, there is $200,000 being pumped into engaging the Black vote specifically for this election year. So three months out from the festival, we made sure to start aligning ourselves and talking to the right people to help get voter registration up and to help understand what voter engagement activities look like. It's a lot of talking that I do, a lot of shaking hands, meeting people, and there are a lot of PowerPoint presentations. It's not very interesting. The interesting part is when you land on site at the festival and it's all organized chaos.
Why does community relations matter so much to a music festival like AfroPunk?
We care because we're not typical and we're not a music festival. First and foremost, before there was even thought of producing a music festival, there was a community. AfroPunk was bred out of an opportunity to create a safe space for people who wanted to feel emboldened and feel affirmed in their otherness, what that meant. Whatever it meant for you to color outside of the box, and really not even check a box and for you to feel OK being other and nobody is ridiculing or persecuting you for doing so, that's at the heart of what AfroPunk is. It's about that community. That is part and parcel, it'll never be a separate thing. It's not a music festival, it's a community coming together to celebrate dope music, artists, creativity, social change, and what social justice can look like—its nuanced. There's levels to this shit, much like what it means to be Black. We're not one thing. What AfroPunk has the ability to do is to show that wonderful, colorful tapestry of Black excellence and what our magic looks like in a tangible form.
It's amazing to be able to take what started out as a documentary that covered Black punks who felt like outsiders and outcasts when they showed up to all these Hardcore and Punk shows, and when they came back to the hoods where they lived, people were looking at them like "Why do you have purple hair?" and they were getting beat up. That was 10 or 12 years when subculture was absolutely subculture. Now it's cool to have septum rings and tattoos all over your head, but doing that back then would've got you murked in the hood. You're welcomed here, we're not gonna exclude anybody. And that's why we have to continue to build community, to understand how to galvanize and mobilize the 15 million millennials that we reach across our socials on a weekly basis.
What are some of the common misconceptions about what you and your team are doing at AfroPunk?
There are so many. There's the misconception that we're like a Tidal, where the whole company is white. We are absolutely for us by us, to paraphrase the Fubu tagline. Matthew Morgan, our co-founder, and Jocelyn Cooper, partner, are Black, extremely Black. Our staff is Black and Latino. That's one of the main misconceptions that I find very humorous. Another one is that we sold off AfroPunk and that that's why we're now charging for tickets to the festival.
What I have been hired and mandated to do, is to hire more people of color into this line of work. All of the event production companies that handle the break down of a festival in a city, they're always white. I want to change the face of that. The only way that we can employ the community is by letting our dollars circulate within our community. In the Jewish community, their dollars stays within. For us, our dollar passes out 6 times over. We're more than happy to give our money to others and pay for Coachella and Governor's Ball. I'm not mad at people doing that; it's your coin, I'm not going to tell you what to do with it. But it's more the fact that some people of color are in such an uproar about investing in a movement that's a direct representation of themselves. It's not a white company. Nobody else is puppeteering AfroPunk. These are people that look just like you.
Who are you excited to see on this year's line-up?
I like what's gonna happen at the Gold Stage. I wanna see Shabazz Palaces, George Clinton, Skunk and Nancy, and The Internet. I've actually never seen Ice Cube live, so that's gonna be legendary. AfroPunk Brooklyn is a fun market, but I get hella jazzed for the other markets that we're moving into. I've been coming to AfroPunk Brooklyn since ’09. It's not that I'm jaded or I think it's wack. Going overseas to Paris, London and going to Atlanta—those are the ones that I'm excited for. Still in Brooklyn, there's just so much to see. I'm excited for the art installations. We're doing some special things with Hank Willis Thomas. He's doing "The Four Freedoms," it’s the first ever artist led super PAC. He's got a selection of works from himself, Carrie Mae Weems, and Cobe Kennedy. There will be vending machines with AK 47s in them, that he wants attendees to interact with. The statement behind the vending machines is that these are the things that are being dropped into our neighborhoods for us to kill ourselves. That's the thing about AfroPunk. It's not just a festival. It's not just activations and brands. It is an experience in the truest sense of the word. All of your senses and your brain, your entire body is involved in this.