Meet The Man Running Afropunk Joburg

Afropunk's man on the ground in SA chats music, fashion, culture and landing his dream job

Photography by Andile Buka

For over a decade Afropunk has provided a culturally stimulating and safe space for the marginalised, championing diversity within urban culture by placing talented individuals at the centre of the Afropunk creative movement.

Johannesburg's inclusion within Afropunk's global expansion was a massive win for South Africa, providing a crucial counterbalance to widely shifting opinions, policies and laws directly impacting human rights, gender equality, race relations, reproductive justice and a litany of our basic human freedoms across the globe. It's also a great party, which allows our homegrown talent a platform (one that's fiercely unorthodox and unapologetically black) to express themselves.

So we reached out to Afropunk's man on the ground in South Africa who - along with being an exciting performer, music appreciator, and infinite source of wisdom and conversation around the live music scene and festival touring in South Africa - will be instrumental in the success of this year's event. Scroll down to find out more about what to expect from Afropunk Joburg 2018.

Warren Bokwe

Give us a quick dummies guide to the festival and its relevance to culture in both SA and the world.

It's a platform for Black kids who don't have a platform, spanning music, fashion, culture, arts and everything in between.

You previously worked in finance and fashion while being embedded in the music scene. How has this prepared you for your role at Afropunk?

Yeah I worked in banking while simultaneously running a footwear distribution business, locally distributing a UK footwear brand - SWEAR. I also ran a bar in Maboneng in Jozi called Poolside, where along with DJing provided the platform to connect deeper into the local music ecosystem. Last year I met the folks from Afropunk, and after a conversation about working a day or two a week as a kind of internship, quickly became a full time role from April last year.

What is your role there and what exactly does that involve?

My role has evolved since starting where I worked on promo events on the festival build up, talent buying, and working Artist Relations during the Joburg festival. I've been fortunate to work at both the 2017 and 2018 Brooklyn Festivals as well as the 2018 Atlanta festival. My role has since expanded to Assistant Booker in the global talent buying team, as well as the lead on our international Battle of the Bands program.

Dream job?

Most definitely.

Why are you the right man for the job?

After doing my time around the banks of Joburg and various side hustles, I got a real feel for the music ecosystem and the people in it through running my own bar - Poolside in Maboneng. Nothing could have equipped me better than having to show up every day be it for three people or 80 people.

Is there any lesson learnt from securing this job that you would like to share with our readers?

I was invited to dinner with the folks from Afropunk early last year, and a conversation after dinner quickly turned into joining the team full time. My advice is that your dream job will present itself in time after one decides keep on the journey of understanding and accepting yourself through continual self-work. That's all I did.

Warren Bokwe

Talk music.

Thundercat, Flying Lotus, The Internet, Kaytranada are the four international big hitters, who were all a big influence on the music policy of Poolside and are now all on this year's lineup. Personal local favourites are maskandi mainstay Phuzekhemisi and my breakthrough artist of the year Muzi. The Battle of the Bands program provides an opportunity for lesser known alternative acts who may only be gigging a few times a year to step right onto a world class stage to perform in front of people like them. This year's program yielded two winners Red Robyn from Durban and Ikati Esengxoweni from Port Elizabeth. Don't miss them at the festival.

Talk fashion. 

The festival creates a space to be who you are and express all of this outwardly.

Talk politics. 

At the root, we're here to create access, which only comes at the cost of pushing back against the invisible walls

Talk about working with the local artists, not just allowing them to share local stages with international acts but also taking our local acts overseas?

I worked closely with Okzharp & Manthe Ribane, Sho Madjozi and DJ Lag earlier this year in preparation for their performances at the Brooklyn festival this year. The many hours on the phone and 100s of emails back and forth to make everything happen instantly become worthwhile as I watched the crowd react to their performances.

We rounded off the weekend with a SA showcase called Liberation Sessions at a 300 cap venue in Williamsburg Brooklyn called National Sawdust.

Is every Afropunk in a different territory unique to the place it's in, or is there a commonality that they share?

Every one of our festivals is different. Brooklyn has the crowds, and the big acts across 4 stages. Atlanta is more underground for me with it's mix of warehouse and outdoor space. Joburg is a space where folks who are othered can gather en masse to celebrate our otherness on a site of great historical and cultural significance.

What is special about the Joburg event that can't be replicated around the world?

1000s of people congregating together breathing life and energy into the city over a time that traditionally doesn't have anything going on.

Ultimately, what do you want this festival to do for music and culture in SA?

Keep creating access.

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