News of London’s first Afropunk Festival had fans rushing to buy tickets before the line-up was even announced, but once folks found out that M.I.A. would be headlining, the mood quickly shifted.
Indie publication Black Ballad, was one of the first to perfectly call out Afropunk London,
My gripe and the gripe of black women I have spoken to about her appearance is more than just her words. It’s the fact that we are trapped in this tiresome situation and conversation where institutions, stalwarts in popular culture, movements are built off the backs of the black community, yet everyone else and their dog profits from it. If Beyonce was to trash the struggles for Asian women, do you seriously think Bollywood would pay her to headline their event? Let’s be honest, would an event for an Asian festival have a black woman headline? I think the answer would be no, but I am happy to be corrected.
If Afropunk is truly for us, then put people on stage that look like us, that understand us and know how different our walk is to the rest of society. Laura Mvula would have been my personal choice. Or what about Corinne Bailey Rae? Despite her confusion even seeing Lianne La Havas on stage as a headliner would have been a better choice. These are the women who look like us, these are the women that sing about our pain, joys and moments. These are the women who have had to walk a tight rope knowingly or unknowingly of race and gender – these are the women and performers black people deserve and need to see at Afropunk.
The choice to book M.I.A. as headliner felt like a slap in the face to many of Afropunk’s supporters and to London’s black creative community. Back in April, the musician made some pretty dismissive comments about African-American celebrities and the Black Lives Matter movement, in an interview with the Evening Standard.
‘It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it onan American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.’
When confronted about her statements on social media, M.I.A. doubled down, unleashing a barrage of seemingly nonsensical tweets that further obfuscated any point she was trying to make. She also blatantly dismissed and mocked the concerns of several African-American activists.
Opposition to M.I.A. at Afropunk came to head on Sunday, by way of an epic read by filmmaker and artist Cecile Emeke, who is also an outspoken advocate for London’s black artist community.
“@MIAuniverse you’re anti-black, you leech black brit culture & i hope everyone boycotts afropunk if you headline it,” Emeke tweeted. Eventually she called on M.I.A., directly, to drop out of the festival, which resulted in her being blocked, but the call outs didn’t stop there. Over a period of nearly two days, Emeke laid down some serious truths about black artistry, appropriation, and London’s history public displays of black art.
Several other artists also called for M.I.A. to step down, and eventually she did, but not without making a series of absurds tweets first.
Sorry I'm not doin Afropunk. I've been told to stay in my lane. Ha there is no lane for 65mil refugees who's lanes are blown up! #nolanes
— M.I.A (@MIAuniverse) June 20, 2016
Of course the problem is much bigger than M.I.A. Over the past few years several longtime fans have expressed feeling alienated from Afropunk, which many feel has evolved into more of a brand than a platform. The Afropunk London snafu shows a disconnect between the organization and its fans and supporters. Many black London creatives felt that the line-up didn’t accurately represent the wealth of talent that exists in London’s black, indie music scene. One writer even decided to post an example of a more ideal line-up, complete with a mock flyer.
The importance of good research when organizing events with the purpose of uplifting marginalized Black British talent By Orion Anakaris When the launch of Afropunk’s inaugural London music event was hinted at earlier this year, expectations were very high and rightly so.
While this entire situation is likely a bump in the road for the future of Afropunk, one thing’s for sure. Creative Black Londoners deserve better.