Black on white

The Afropunk Festival in Paris is a showdown of diversity and creativity – Mademoiselle Lili is looking forward to a two-day event full of visual and acoustic fireworks.

In my last column, I wrote about hair and religion. I didn’t mention one culture in which hair is fashion fetish number one: the African culture. When I first visited France as a student many years ago, and my accommodation was in a predominantly African hall of residence, I was amazed at how much time my house mates devoted to their hair. We spent whole weekends chatting and cooking together, and braiding each other’s hair. And with every braid, we also established lifelong friendships.

You just have to go for a walk on a Saturday morning near the Métro stations Strasbourg-St. Denis and Château d’Eau to see rows of overfilled African salons and watch the crowds getting their hair done at the weekend. Both men and women get braids done in all colours of the rainbow, have patterns shaved into their hair, get their hair relaxed or have leopard spots dyed. Apparently, the imagination of the hairdressers and their customers knows no bounds. This summer’s latest trend: the Jimi Hendrix afro look. Naturally frizzy hair with a round cut that envelopes the head like a cloud. The bigger, the better! In the 60s and 70s, this hairstyle was the symbol of the American black power movement. Today, it is celebrating a renaissance on the streets of Paris. The salon business is already booming because Afropunk is coming soon. On the weekend of the French national holiday, Bastille Day on 14 July, the music festival will be held for the fourth time in Paris.

Afropunk? Never heard of it? It all began in 2003 with the US documentary of the same name in which James Spooner and Matthew Morgan accompanied young Afro-Americans whose music taste differed from the categories of the typical black music scene: hip hop, rap, jazz or reggae. Afro-Americans who rejected jogging pants, baseball shirts and flashy gold jewellery, suits and green, red and yellow ethnic clothes. Instead, they preferred rocking to the fast and aggressive punk sound of the white working classes, wore a Mohawk and thus completely overturned the orderly stereotypes for both blacks and whites. In 2005, this evolved into the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, a festival for black, alternative music that doesn’t fit into the usual categories and for an audience that is more heterogeneous and complex than can be described by marketing categories. With a roaring success: The Afropunk movement grew and grew – Brooklyn was followed a few years ago by regular festivals in Atlanta and Paris, London and Johannesburg.

Meanwhile, it is not only a festival of music and colourful counterculture, but above all of fashion that is worshipped here in the brightest and most creative shades. No other festival has managed to mobilise the black community across the whole of Europe as much as Afropunk. They come from London, Brussels, Cologne, Madrid. How did Beyoncé stylist Ty Hunter explain it to me when he travelled to Afropunk from the USA to Paris last year wearing a fluffy green coat? “For me it is above all a festival for the eyes. A source of inspiration. It’s about style and a proud black attitude”. There’s no better way to explain it in my opinion.