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Stars come out for Afro-Punk Festival

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae Credit: Janelle Monae (Getty Images)

Brooklyn's Afro-Punk Festival, which is now in its eighth year, began with a documentary about a side of the punk rock movement few people were paying attention to at the time: the African-American and multicultural kids who passionately identified with it.

The documentary came out in 2003, and two years later the filmmakers curated their first festival highlighting Afro-Punk culture.

In 2010, the festival moved from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to become a free event in Commodore Barry Park in the Fort Greene neighborhood.

amNewYork spoke with co-founder Matthew Morgan about this year's edition, which includes TV on the Radio, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Das Racist and Reggie Watts.

When did you first become interested in the Afro-Punk movement? When I first came to America [from the U.K.] 12 years ago, I was working predominately with R&B and hip-hop songwriters and producers. Santigold was one of my clients. She was in a punk band called Stiffed. I was told by record companies they didn't know what to do with a black rock artist. When we started working on the film, the idea that there were a lot of young people of color into alternative music became the impetus to create a community that could be self sustaining so I wouldn't have to go to a record company to ask them if they could distribute my artist. Maybe we could build an audience ourselves.

How would you describe the Afro-Punk? It's not meant to be a musical genre. Expression and freedom is at the core along with a DIY ethos. When I say Afro-Punk, I don't mean traditional punk rock. Afro-Punk to me is Miles Davis, Grace Jones, Prince, Bootsy Collins. People who came along and moved music forward. It's a mindset.

Why did you add BMX and skateboarding to the festival? These were things that were part of my youth. They were always part of music. I come from a West Indian community where black kids rode BMX bikes and skateboarded. When I came here it was weird because that was considered something white kids do. I want people to see other kids who look like them doing things considered alternative. It's about breaking down barriers.

If you go: The Afro-Punk Festival is on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. at Commodore Barry Park, Enter at Nassau St. or Park Ave., bet. Navy St. and N. Elliot Pl., Brooklyn, afropunk, FREE. 

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