Afropunk Festival 2015 Day One: Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones, Kelis & More Deliver Good Vibes [EXCLUSIVE]
The sun was beaming over Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., as the first day of the eleventh annual Afropunk festival kicked off on Saturday (Aug. 22). Upon arriving in the vicinity at 3:30 p.m., a sea of afros, braids, twists, mohawks and high-top fades -- in a rainbow of colors -- were everywhere. Mostly anxious teens, 20 and 30-year-olds made up a line that stretched a block from the general admissions entrance.
The heat would not stop fans of hip-hop and R&B -- and everything in between -- from experiencing this highly -anticipated day-long event featuring some of the biggest genre-bending artists of our time. On the first day, the main stage -- a.k.a. the green stage -- was set for girl power with acts ranging from newcomers Lion Babe to the OGs who taught them a la Grace Jones, a headliner. Here are some of the day 1 highlights including Lauryn Hill, SZA, Kelis and more at Afropunk.
When we think of the future of R&B, this neo-soul duo is definitely part of the conversation. Lion Babe, consisting of Jillian Hervey and musician Lucas Goodman, drew a sizeable crowd to the main stage. Since releasing their first single "Treat Me Like Fire" in 2012, their fan base has clearly grown and rightfully so. The group performed their latest material including the clappy “Impossible” and motivational “Jump Hi.” Hervey wore a black corset and her signature long golden tresses were braided up into a mohawk, bringing on a great case of hair envy. The singer, who is Vanessa Williams' daughter, graced the stage with her well-choreographed moves and rounded out the set with the song that started it all, “Treat Me Like Fire.”
“I'm really happy to be here. I waited all summer for this,” said Top Dawg Entertainment’s leading woman SZA. The singer returned to the festival this year -- she performed in 2013 too -- now a much bigger artist and with much redder hair. The voice of the freckled face beauty vibrated throughout the park as she performed tracks from her 2014 EP Z such as "Warm Winds" and "HiiiJack." Midway through her set, she shouted out her family. “My parents are here. Make me look good for my parents!” She also gave folks a preview of a new track. “Maybe I should kill my inhibitions / Maybe I am perfect in another dimension,” SZA bellowed. And let's not forget her laid-back style. SZA opted for comfort in the heat, rocking a white tank top with a New York Knicks logo and green shorts.
While awaiting the presence of Kelis, protesters marched in one by one chanting “Black Trans Lives Matter.” One demonstrator held up a sign of the names of transgender people killed in hate crimes. On the stage, black transgender women were stating demands to hire and pay transgender performers and to ensure transgender people are included on the planning team of Afropunk festival. “There is an outcast in everyone’s life and I am her,” one transgender singer sang onstage. Before leaving, the group sang Janelle Monae newest protest anthem “Hell You Talmbout.” This moment took many by surprise, but the cause was urgent and necessary.
A glowing Kelis made a very big announcement as soon as she graced the stage on Saturday: she's pregnant. Donning a long fuchsia dress that showed off her growing baby bump, she opened her set with the jam "Cobbler" and later followed up with "Jerk Ribs," off her 2014 album Food. The Harlem native was cool, calm and collected as she then took us back to earlier songs like "Get Along With You” and touched on her hook on Ol' Dirty Bastard’s "Got Your Money," both released in 1999. After her DJ played some dancehall and hip-hop throwbacks, the singer performed an interesting version of her popular track "Milkshake," which was mixed with Cyndi Lauper’s "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
Kelis, who turned 36 on Aug. 21, celebrated her birthday onstage as well when a birthday cake was brought out for her. A woman who has always been eccentric and fearless in her artistic approach, Kelis expressed gratefulness for the Afropunk movement. “When I started this I was 17, there were so few of us doing this. So to stand here in this city and see [natural] hair and all these colors, I cannot tell you how that feels!" she shared. "Thank you!"
Fans waited faithfully for Ms. Lauryn Hill to grace the stage at Afropunk, and when she finally arrived, it was almost an hour later than scheduled. Darkness had set over Brooklyn by the time the legendary rapper sat centerstage, guitar in hand, at 8:05 p.m. Interestingly, she moved through tracks from her Unplugged album. For "I Gotta Find Peace of Mind" she got up and jammed out. In her raspy tone and sometimes unclear delivery, we heard "Mr. Intentional," "Freedom Time" and "Mystery of Iniquity."
“It could all be so simple, but you rather make it hard,” the crowd belted along to a reggae-infused version of "Ex-Factor." The good vibes were certainly picking up as many fans in the crowd anticipated hearing other cuts from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but around 8:53 p.m., the lights and sound went out. Disappointment settled in. But the show went on. Those closer to the stage kept the momentum up as they rapped along with Hill to "Lost Ones" and "That Thing." Afropunk attendees in the back had no clue what was going on. “Lauryn, Lauryn, Lauryn,” the crowd yelled, but no amount of chanting could bring the power back on. The damage was done.
In between all of the amazing female performers taking the stage, DJ Beverly Bond, the founder of Black Girls Rock, kept the energy going by spinning classic '90's hip-hop. Songs from the Notorious B.I.G. to Snoop Dogg sounded off, ringing throughout the crowd to much delight. Bond also got the concert-goers hype with Kendrick Lamar’s "Alright" and Rihanna’s "Bitch Better Have My Money." She even mixed in some throwbacks such as Prince and the Jacksons’ "Can You Feel." “I Love this song!’ a man screamed out as the sea of people showed off their best two-step and rocked along to the beat.
At 67 years old, Grace Jones puts most young performers to shame with how she commands the stage. Her many costume changes -- as unique as they could get -- could only be imagined in an epic fairy tale. Clad in white and black body paint, she also wore a hooded skeleton mask head dress as she showed out for the crowd. Throughout the hour-and-a-half-long performance, her changed looks from one instant to the next. A silver sparkling wig, a multi-layer afro-like headdress, a Spartan galea helmet and a long white wig were just some of her choices for the evening's festivities.
The singer and model had recently returned from her birth country. “I was in Jamaica,” she repeated several times. During her set she cursed from time to time while making jokes. “Sorry I'm swearing. I know there are kids here but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop,” she admitted. Grace was not concerned about keeping it PG, as she also had a male pole dancer in body paint come on stage and twirl while the pole was shaking slightly.
Jones kept up her sensual moves throughout her set as she performed hits including "Private Life," "My Jamaican Guy," "Walking in the Rain" and "Love Is the Drug." “Hope my body paint stays on,” she said. This seemed to be her one and only concern for the night. She stayed true to her legacy as a bold entertainer and surely walked away with some new fans by the time she exited the stage.
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