In many African cultures, rain symbolizes blessings, even when it arrives at an inopportune moment. This past weekend at the Afropunk Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, thunderstorms were indeed greeted with laughter, dancing, and song. For the final two days of the year, this momentum would rock the City of Gold, intensified with notable performances by Blitz the Ambassador, Laura Mvula, Manthe Ribane, Thandiswa Mazwai, and the festival’s charismatic headliner, Anderson Paak.

Photography: Kent Andreasen | Words: Amira Rasool

The Joburg edition of Afropunk represented a homecoming of sorts. For more than a decade the Brooklyn-based festival has nurtured and promoted the diverse and beautiful heritage of Africa’s diaspora, while simultaneously providing a safe space for people of all backgrounds to fully express their sexuality, heritage, bodies, and most notably—their style. Afropunk’s arrival in Africa conjured a spirit of resilience and pride first mobilized by political activists such as South Africa’s father of independence, Nelson Mandela, who was previously incarcerated on the grounds of Constitution Hill where the festival took place, and whose image and words were proudly memorialized on screens beside each stage.

For years festivalgoers in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Paris, and London, have welcomed the opportunity to reinterpret the fashion and beauty practices of their African ancestry. Afropunk Joburg made way for local reinterpretations of the continent’s rich heritage, incorporating the urban aesthetic of the surrounding city, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, and beyond. Traditional dress indigenous to the Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho tribes were paired with tennis shoes and rose-tinted sunglasses; beaded necklaces were made by hand and threaded into colorful braids; pinstripes were accessorized with kufi hats and African statement necklaces. In the end, these fresh looks paid homage to Africa’s past while pointing to its bright new future.

Thato and Jack - Designers, G-looks

@glookswear, Freedom Park, Johannesburg, South Africa

“We incorporate our traditions into our designs. We recently designed a jacket made out of the Sotho people blanket. I am Sotho and he is Zulu. It’s too personal to say where we get the fabrics, but we source from around Africa. We designed our outfits today.”

Lara Fisher - Singer

@luh.ra, Cape Town, South Africa

“I think a lot of music festivals in South Africa are very white-dominated, and I like the idea that Afropunk is safe space for brown people here. I feel like I can express myself more easily in Joburg.”

Cole Ndelu, Content producer and freelance photographer

@colendelu, Durban, South Africa

“I came up with this hairstyle because I was broke. I knew I wanted something colorful and chunky because I always have super colorful hair. My sister and I were like, ‘Screw it, let’s just watch a YouTube tutorial.’ It’s made out of wool.”

Qaqamba Sibayi - Student

@sistrbettina, Cape Town, South Africa

“Johannesburg has much more of an urban influence. You can see here at Afropunk Festival that lots of people are embracing and getting inspiration from their African traditions and traditional dress. I think that’s what Joburg is, it’s like an African hub.”

Denisse Ariana Pérez - Copywriter

@denisseaps, Stockholm, Sweden

“I wear a lot of black. When I go visit my parents back in the Dominican Republic they question me and think I’m mourning or in [a] religious cult or something.”

Zandile Makombe, Fashion design student

@zandi_mak, Johannesburg, South Africa

“Johannesburg style is very self-made. Whatever each person sees online they turn it in to their own stuff. I decided to take vintage mom jeans and just turn them into a jacket, and also paint on it to add my own thing to it.”

Refiloe Seretlo - Model

@ref1loe, Johannesburg, South Africa

“My heritage is Setswana. In Botswana Setswana people have these wonderful jewelry pieces for their feet that have little beads inside. They use the pieces as traditional wear for dancing. So you incorporate that African vibe, the whole love of music, with fashion because now you have this accessory that makes music as well.”

Bafana - Freelance stylist

Johannesburg, South Africa

“I think Johannesburg is special because of the culture. There’s a movement right now where being yourself is the It thing. I think that’s why we are so different because we are being ourselves in terms of style, music, and everything. I also think it’s important that we remember who we are and where we are from in everything that we do.”

Mahlohonolo - Student

Johannesburg, South Africa

“My mother is Xhosa and that has a lot of influence on who I am. My style is very traditional, very African-based. The main thing that differentiates Xhosa people from everyone else is the white dots on our face. In a way, we are also very similar with Ndebele people, because we both use very bright and colorful fabrics.”