Afropunk Fest Co-Founder Jocelyn Cooper Breaks It Down

Afropunk is one fest that never fails to impress. From the head-turning collection of eclectic artists, amazing food, cutting-edge fashion, and the contagious sense of community, Afropunk isn’t just a festival, it’s a lifestyle. We spoke to co-founder of Afropunk, Jocelyn Cooper, about how this fest began, where it’s headed, and how the community is only getting stronger. Check out how she breaks it down below.


Eventbrite: Tell us a little about Afropunk. 

Jocelyn Cooper: Afropunk is the most multicultural festival in the country, and really, in the world. We’re bringing neo-soul artists and hard rock artists together. We’re putting D’Angelo, Trash Talk, Tyler the Creator, and Flying Lotus on the same bill in Atlanta. We’ve got Grace Jones, Lenny Kravitz, and Lauryn Hill on the same bill in New York. It’s sort of unheard of. I joke around with our founder Matthew Morgan all the time because I think he spends as much time curating the festival and thinking about the artists as he does in curating the audience. To bring all of those communities together: skate kids, punk kids, the LGBTQ audience all in one space—it just doesn’t happen in most places.


Eventbrite: How is it different from other festivals out there? 

JC: It’s different than festivals like Coachella or Lollapalooza because people’s identities are wrapped up in it. For them, Afropunk is a lifestyle and a culture that they relate to 365 days a year; it’s not just a one-off event.

Photo Credit: #Afropunkfest, by Versus and Company. Flickr Licensing Info: CC BY-ND 2.0


Eventbrite: How did Afropunk start?

JC: The idea actually came from the film, Afro-Punk, a documentary that my partner Matthew Morgan produced about race identity in the punk scene. Matthew wanted to produce a series of events with the artists who were in the film, as well as the community of artists that were outside of the film. That’s how it really all began.


Eventbrite: What was the goal when you began? Have those goals changed with Afropunk’s success? 

JC: We started with 250 kids in a room, and the goal was to communicate with enough people around the country to sell 5,000 records for the bands that were a part of the Afropunk community. At that point, the big challenge was to get people to support the festival by buying tickets or earning a ticket—for people to really see the value in the culture.

Now, the goal is to produce bigger and more frequent festivals, and we’ve already started doing that. We produced a festival this year in Paris, and we’re going back to Paris in June of next year. We’ll be in Atlanta in October. We want to go to Africa and Brazil and potentially another market in the US.


Eventbrite: Why did you decide to expand to other markets?

JC: Between afropunk.com and our social channels, we have a very strong online community—some weeks, we reach nine million people on Facebook and across our social networks. These communities have requested that we come to certain cities, and we’ve been quite fortunate to find partners in those areas that really get it and will help us keep it authentic. Our Editor in Chief of afropunk.com, Lou C.D., actually lives in Paris, so that was a great city for us because we’ve got a community and some amazing partners there.


Eventbrite: What’s the biggest challenge you face with this growth?

JC: I think it’s to keep the authenticity of what we do as we expand, to keep the community vibe as we grow. Matthew and Lou really challenge us to stay on course. They both fiercely protect the community; the community comes first in everything we do and every choice we make. We go to Bonnaroo every year and the most amazing thing about that festival is that it’s 90,000 people, but they still have a real community vibe there. So we know it’s possible.


Eventbrite: What’s the best thing about this festival?

JC: I love the energy. I love that people come every year. It’s almost like a family reunion for some folks. I love the fact that Afropunk is a platform for discovery. People come and get turned on to amazing music they’ve never heard before, eat incredible food, and really enjoy the community.


Eventbrite: And the fashion?

JC: The fashion is off the hook. And we have very, very pretty folks. We did an event in DC last night and we were talking to some folks that came from the White House and they were like ‘I’ve never seen so many pretty people in one place! This is amazing.’ The fashion reflects who these people are. They come dressed up and really think about what they’re wearing to Afropunk. People want to outdo each other and not in an evening gown kind of way. These are people who are real tastemakers and drive culture.

Eventbrite: Any highlights we should know about this year?

JC: This year, one of the highlights for us is art. We’ve had a Spin Thrift Market for many years. We’ve got 100 craft vendors who normally aren’t represented in the mainstream, and normally do not vend at other festivals or other events. We’ve got something that we’re doing called a “rock and read” with Green Light bookstore where authors from our community are coming to do book signings. Unlocking the Truth, one of our Battle of the Bands winners, actually has a book out that they’ll be signing.

Our restaurant row, Bites&Beats, is a food festival within the festival.  We also have Activism Row, with 19 community organizations coming together around real community efforts and really pushing the boundaries forward for people of color. The idea is to bring all of the pieces that we focus on online to the event and to the community.


Eventbrite: What’s your favorite performance you’ve ever seen at Afropunk?

JC: It actually was last year, and it wasn’t a performance I saw on the stage— it was a dance circle that broke out. Kids were in the middle of the floor and they were voguing and having this dance off. It was actually an African dance circle. That to me is just amazing. That was my favorite thing, and it happened in Paris too.

The performers that come are great, but the community folks that come, the people that are really a part of Afropunk, that’s always the most amazing part of the festival for me.


The Afropunk Festival is held from August 22nd-August 23rd in Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn and in Atlanta on October 3. Visit Afropunk Fest for tickets, and check out this year’s amazing lineup.


Cover Photo Credit: rene_beignet
Photo Credit: #Afropunkfest, by Versus and Company. Flickr Licensing Info: CC BY-ND 2.0