Wielding an axe:  Sounds of Freedom on stage at Constitution Hill. The Afropunk festival will take place at the same venue. Picture: SUPPLIED
Wielding an axe: Sounds of Freedom on stage at Constitution Hill. The Afropunk festival will take place at the same venue. Picture: SUPPLIED

Afro-Punk is the title of a 2003 documentary directed by James Spooner, which traces the lives of black people in the white punk subculture.

The Afropunk festival was started by Matthew Morgan and Jocelyn Cooper in 2005 in Brooklyn, New York, to respond directly to the needs identified in the documentary.

The festival has since expanded to Atlanta, London and Paris under a nonprofit arm of the organisation known as Afropunk Global Initiative. Its intention is to work alongside traditionally underserved communities, support local creative businesses and invest in the creative economy.

"We love the music, the style and the culture in SA and wanted to showcase the talented community that is here to the rest of our community around the world," says Cooper.

On its second visit to SA, the initiative met with Dawn Robertson, CEO of the Constitution Hill Development Company.

Constitution Hill is an icon of inclusion, multiculturalism and equality for people and is positioning itself as a gateway to Gauteng.

"We were looking for an international event that could catapult us onto the international stage. The Afropunk mission and values resonate with ours completely. We are from the same tribe," says Robertson.

"As a festival, Afropunk seeks to empower and support local creative businesses and invest in the creative economy of Gauteng."

Constitution Hill has hosted megafestivals before such as the annual Basha Uhuru Freedom Fest which attracts 15,000 youths to the precinct every June. A five-year partnership was signed to host the Afropunk Joburg Festival.

"We could not think of a better home on the continent than a country that has the most progressive constitution in the world. The idea of producing a festival in a living museum that tells the story of SA’s journey to democracy is inspiring," says Cooper.

The Constitution Hill partnership has given rise to a legacy project, IamJoburg, an online tourism portal, project-managed by Travel Massive Africa.

To give Afropunk guests a raw Johannesburg experience, tour operators in Alexandra, Soweto and the city centre are being assisted with developing experiential products and making better use of digital marketing.

Bongani Mathebula, founder of the Triangle Project, is a local tour operator who has been engaged with Afropunk since its launch in May. He provides a walking tour through Newtown with a focus on graffiti.

"Afropunk is all about culture. I show them a different culture in the city," he says.

"Afropunk is very black, but they are still open to multi-culturalism. They want that voice and that identity of belonging so they can have that openness towards the public."

Connecting people and promoting young artists is the heartbeat of the organisation. Integral to building its online community is the Battle of the Bands programme where audiences curate the line-up through online votes. One winner is selected to perform on the main stage of the event.

The Afropunk online initiative reaches 9-million people through year-round content on social media and Johannesburg musicians are expected to benefit from this huge exposure.

Blk Jacks, Thandiswa Mazwai, Brother Moves On, Spoek Mathambo and Urban Village are among the Johannesburg musicians included in the line-up.

The headline performer is Solange Knowles, younger sister of Beyoncé. She shot the video for Losing You in the streets of Johannesburg.

"It was one of her breakout songs. Her performance brings her Joburg experience full circle," says Cooper.

The line-up is more soul than punk, but it represents the emerging Johannesburg do-it-yourself culture of young artists.

"It is a good fusion. These are kids from the city who feel they don’t belong in a certain space and create their own space and lifestyle," says Mathebula.

The City of Johannesburg and Gauteng province have recognised the tourism potential, especially during the traditionally quiet summer holiday season and have co-partnered with the event.

Their projected figures are 10,000 attendees, 300 jobs created, and an effect of R42m on the Gauteng economy.

Constitution Hill will continue to expand its impact on cultural tourism. There is a multimillion-rand visitor’s centre on the cards for next year. Rent and facility costs will be subsidised to promote experiences to visitors and assist small to medium-sized enterprises that are largely black-owned.

The Battle of the Bands is in Soweto on November 25 at Lebo’s Backpackers. The Afropunk Festival takes place at Constitution Hill on December 30—31.

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