The Afro-Punk Festival: not your mama’s punk show

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

You think you know what punk is. But you haven’t seen anything until you’ve joined the thousands of head-bangers who make the pilgrimage once a year in June to Brooklyn’s Afro-Punk Festival.

This two-day celebration of music, skating, and film has become a Mecca for the burgeoning movement of Afro-Punk, a collection of African-American bands, fans, and misfits who are embracing hardcore rock culture and making it their own. Launched in the summer of 2005, the festival was the brainchild of record executive Matthew Morgan and filmmaker James Spooner, who wanted to give voice to the growing popularity of indie and punk rock in traditionally urban communities. It has ever since been a focal point of musical and cultural cross-pollination, fueled by an audience as diverse as the music itself.

Each day of the festival features bands ranging from eclectic rockers like Houston-based American Fangs to genre-bending artists like crooner Janelle Monae, that by turns, awe and electrify the crowd. Afro-Punk is the wild, weird alternate universe where anything is possible (I personally will never forget seeing bass guitarist Ahmed of Brooklyn’s Game Rebellion strut onstage sporting a fan of giant peacock feathers). Want to learn more about the Afro-Punk Festival? Keep reading below…

For first-timers, the Afro-Punk mashup of grunge guitar and streetwise swagger can be overwhelming. But have no fear: punk is a contact sport, and no one can stand still for long. Crowd surfing is encouraged, from the tiniest faux-hawked kindergartener to the heaviest thrasher, so dive away! And if you yearn for the days of good ole-fashioned moshing, you’ll have no trouble finding a scrum for a little full-body ping-pong.

Other thrill-seekers can get their kicks on the festival’s custom-built skate park. The dizzying array of jumps, ramps and rails is also the battleground for the annual URBANX skate and BMX competitions, where pro-skaters and bikers defy gravity and common sense for a coveted $5,000 prize.

Listen for the distinctive clink and hiss of spray cans and you’ll also find a one-of-a-kind outdoor art exhibit. At Afro-Punk, graffiti is king, and true to form, the artists work at lightning speed, to the delight of onlookers, tagging a rich tableaux of original pieces along a 30-foot wall of wooden panels.

On Sunday, the festival closes with a block party featuring live DJ’s, fashion, and food. But before you go, take a moment to enjoy the greatest spectacle on display: the crowd itself. Revel in being someplace where piercings outnumber iPhones two-to-one, and ‘business casual’ means keeping your shirt on. There are few places on Earth where dreadlocks and leather chokers so seamlessly co-exist. Afro-Punk is the center of a movement that defies definition. In the end, what could be more punk than that?

The 2010 Afro-Punk Festival hits New York June 26th and 27th, and will this year open in two new cities: Chicago and Atlanta. Check out for dates and updated details.

Round the World in 80 Sounds: What’s World Music?

What is World Music? How has such a bland, vague term come to describe the rich and divergent music of thousands of cultures, from sub-Saharan Gnawa to Colombian Cumbia and Tuvan Throat Singing? For too long, it’s been the descriptor anywhere we buy or hear international music, from record stores to digital outlets like iTunes, relegating hundreds of diverse artists to a single heap because of their “otherness.” In fact, World Music is a Western term describing music outside the traditional “pop music canon:” the familiar American and European bands that long-dominated our radios and laptops. But World Music is on its way out: a hunger for the varied sounds from around the globe is rising to take its place.

The term “World Music” is a relatively recent phenomenon. Coined by a musicologist by the name of Robert E. Brown in the 1960’s, it was created to describe styles of ethnic or folk music found in more remote corners of the globe. World Music actually worked OK for much of the last 50 years, as long as the Western World remained the center of economic, political and cultural force. In the 20th Century, the West dominated the global airwaves, with icons like Michael Jackson and The Beatles winning hearts and record players from Bogota to Beijing. But by the end of the 90’s, it was clear the term was increasingly irrelevant.

As we push into the 21st Century, the Western dominance of the global music scene has waned. A new global musical consciousness springs up in its place, driven by the power of a global economy and music distribution systems where digital files and streaming videos are the norm. The hot sounds of 2010 don’t just come from New York and London – instead, rhythms ricochet across the globe, from Angola to Argentina and to Angkor Wat, finding eager listeners and receptive audiences in the farthest corners of our planet. It’s not just that music lovers are just discovering new global favorites, it’s also having a profound impact on what we listen to at home. The DNA of this global music phenomenon has worked its way into the music of our favorite singers and bands, from M.I.A. to Shakira to Vampire Weekend.

The global phenomenon of music is also tied to travel. Wherever we go, music permeates our consciousness, buzzing from tinny taxi radios, echoing off the chambers of metro tunnels and pumping from giant speakers. But alluring as it may be, discovering global music can also be confusing and intimidating. There are enough countries, artists and weird musical genres to make your head spin. What’s a traveling music-lover to do?

Today we’re unveiling a new feature here at Gadling called “Round the World in 80 Sounds.” The phenomena of global travel and music are inextricably intertwined. Each Thursday over the course of the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking a look at some of the world’s most fascinating music personalities, emerging musical trends and musically inclined destinations. We’ll introduce you to new styles of music you haven’t heard, and help you to take a fresh look at some of your old favorites with a global eye. What qualifies as World Music in 2010? Everything and nothing, it seems, all at once. Prepare to take a journey into the fascinating world of music today as we head Round the World in 80 Sounds.

Curious about the sounds of the world? Read future Round the World in 80 Sounds posts HERE.

East of Africa: Sounds from the Red Island

Belltowers can be heard from the top of a hillside on a warm Sunday morning in Antananarivo.

After returning from Tuléar, I had a few remaining days in Antananarivo to explore the city and capture some additional photo and video. I’ve started getting in the habit of keeping an ear out for interesting sounds and pulling out my audio recorder to capture the moment. Below are a few of those experiences – and I hope they’re able to transport you to the beautiful and exotic world of Madagascar, even for a split second.

If you have headphones I’d suggest using them so you can pick up the small details in the audio. Enjoy!

A classical guitarist plays a solo in a rural village outside of

Two roosters spar in a local competition. Both roosters wheeze heavily with exhaustion, while the owners splash water on their feet to aggravate them.

A beautiful sunset from the balcony of the Radama hotel, accompanied by the sounds of local broadcast on a wind-up radio.

A small, roadside Malagasy cafe bustles with early morning customers eating rice, fried bread, and oatmeal out of noisy tin bowls.

Two teenagers from Tuléar, Melson & Titina, play guitar on a homemade wooden instrument.

The haunting voices of two street children (kat-mis), begging for money on a late night walk in Antananarivo.

A wildfire burns through brush outside of Ilakaka.

A youth choir performs a song in a local church to commemorate a secondary school graduation.

Catch the previous articles in the East of Africa series here!

Dim Sum Dialogues in Thailand: Street music

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and most of the rowdy backpackers have deserted Bangkok’s Khao San Road. A large rat scurries down the gutter of the street, stopping only to inspect trash and empty plastic buckets that have been strewn about the pavement. A few dispersed food vendors finish packing their stalls for the day and roll them towards wherever home may be.

Compared to the energy of the road during the daytime, it feels eerily silent and motionless. I begin the walk toward my $8 USD-per-night hostel when the reverberation of a guitar slowly starts to fill the void of the early morning. The sound grows louder and I see a small crowd of maybe ten people sitting and standing around a guitarist on the sidewalk.
The guitarist is outfitted with the flare of a seventies rock star. Skinny bellbottom jeans, a pocketed shirt with shoulder straps, and American sneakers. He has long, bushy black hair that bobs at his shoulders as he strums an acoustic guitar. He’s playing the chorus of Yesterday by the Beatles, and the handful of young tourists are fervently singing along. When he finishes, a young girl with a British accent shouts out “Let’s hear some Dylan… I know you know Dylan!”

I sense a little of reluctance from the guitarist – “I don’t know all the words, but maybe you can help me”. He obliges and strums the opening chords. “How many roads must a man walk down, before they can call him a man…”

The British girl leans over to me and boastingly says, “See he knows it, he just needs a bit of prompting.”

I settle in to the small crowd and hang around for a couple more songs. Radiohead. Neil Young. Eagle Eye Cherry.

It’s my third night staying on the Khao San, and I’ve seen him out here both previous nights. Each time I passed him on the side of the road there was a group of travelers crowded around him, half listening, half engrossed in their own conversations with new acquaintances. I want to know why the guitarist is out here at this hour. For money? For fame? For friends?

As the crowd starts to break away and socialize amongst themselves I move closer and ask what his name is. In a thick Thai accent that was undetectable during the song, he gives a small smile and says “Diow. Did you like my songs?” I tell him that I did, and ask if he’s ever bothered by the few rambunctious stragglers that stagger up to him and try to compete for attention. He softly replies in broken English, “Well if they come and respect me, I would appreciate it. But I play here, I’m not ask someone to come to listen or play, if you don’t like – you go, if you don’t like then stay and that makes me happy.”

I ask what makes him happiest – why does he come out? “When I play and then have alot of people listen and sing along, it’s what makes me happy. For money it’s not really important – but the feeling is much more important for me.”

My inquiries keep coming. What’s your biggest dream? He stops to consider it, repeating the question to himself. “To buy a Ricken-backer.” He laughs. “For now, I don’t really have a long goal, I just a short goal everyday I want to finish. For this goal today I make short goal first – I guess long goal is maybe to buy a house. Even maybe big goal is to grow the tree all over the world…” he trails off, looking down at his guitar, and starts to pluck at the strings.

He looks up, ready to change the subject. “Do you want to hear my song?” he says. I feel honored that he’d share an original with me and I tell him that I’d love to hear it.

The strumming is edgy with a distinct, steady rock beat. I can tell that he’s far more into this tune than the previous covers he’s been playing all night. He closes his eyes, letting his voice break into high notes that are remnant of his influences from British rock. The lyrics are extremely simple, but it’s my favorite song of the evening.

He looks up for approval at the end of it and I tell him how much I enjoyed it. I mean it. I ask why he doesn’t play original songs more often. “Most people, they want to hear things they know. Things they can sing with too. Sometimes I play my songs, but most of the time they like things they know.”

How ironic. Wandering souls coming from across the world to have a solo performance from a talented local musician, and we’d rather hear something familiar, something from our side of the world that we can spout off to as well.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing – he’s intentionally crafted his image and style from the legends of the West…and it draws people in. It gives him the small crowds that he enjoys.

I’m struck by how soft-spoken and genuine he is. No real big goal. Just short goal. Maybe buy a house. There’s a lesson to be learned here, but it’s way past my bedtime, so I thank him and say goodnight.

A pair of lively Italian twins from Naples come up to take pictures with him. The crowd is smaller now but has reformulated around Diow. They call out a few more requests, and he accommodates them, starting up on a well-known Doors song in a crisp western accent. I hear the opening lines as I walk down the deserted Khao San…

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger. Faces look ugly, when you’re alone. Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted, streets are uneven when you’re down…”

Diow can be found playing on the sidewalks of Khao San Road most evenings during the week & weekend. You can check out a recording (audio only) from the performance below:


Undiscovered New York: Rocking the boat

It doesn’t really make sense. Why does music sound better when you’re riding on a boat? Do melodies travel better by sea breeze? Can the current of a river improve a guitar solo? They’re not questions we ponder very often, but maybe it’s time that we did. Because believe it or not, New York City happens to be a great place to hear live music on boats.

You’re probably thinking – why in the world are people playing music while floating on water? As much as we try to fill in the gaps here at Undiscovered New York, to help you try to understand the lesser known parts of this great city, we aren’t really sure that we have an answer. Maybe boat-goers enjoy the city’s awesome harbor views when accompanied by a good tune. Maybe leaving shore lets us leave our inhibitions behind. Or maybe there’s no need to rationalize – as with so many other unexpected activities in New York, sometimes you just show up and go with the flow.

Whatever, the reason, New York has some seriously good options when it comes to riding the waters to hear some top-quality tunes. Whether you want to enjoy a symphony orchestra along the East River, boogie down at an abandoned boat dance party or check out the latest in floating indie rock, there’s a boat concert to suit your needs. So leave those “lame” concerts for the land-lubbers. This week, Undiscovered New York is “rocking the boat.” Click below to see where you can hear some great music while riding the city’s waves.
The Frying Pan
From 1930 until 1965, the lightship Frying Pan played an important role for the U.S. Coast Guard, serving as a floating lighthouse to keep ships from running aground in rough seas. These days though, the ancient Frying Pan is more likely to guide partygoers to a good time. After spending three years at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay, the boat was salvaged and brought to New York, where it now floats at Pier 66 along Manhattan’s West Side. On weekends and evenings, partiers come to hang out along the water and dance inside the ship’s rusty barnacle covered hull. It’s a one-of-a-kind night out that definitely beats an evening on dry land.

New York visitors are often surprised to learn that the city’s grimy East River is home base for symphony-quality performances of Chopin, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. These decidedly highbrow affairs happen at Bargemusic, a series of weekly classical music concerts hosted on a former New York City coffee barge. The event’s nautical setting makes for a surprisingly good concert – attendees claim the boat’s cavernous acoustics and intimate seating, close-up to the musicians, makes for a truly memorable experience.

Rocks Off Concerts
Remember that time you saw your favorite band live? Man, what a show. But good as it was, have you ever seen your favorite band live and on a boat? That’s exactly the thinking behind Rocks Off concert cruises. Now in its ninth year of musically-themed boat cruises, the events combine a New York City harbor cruise at dusk with a variety of up-and-coming musical acts like Electric Six and Amon Tobin.