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Afropunk's Black Spring Festival Highlights the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean

Santana Caress Benitez is set to host Afropunk's virtual festival, Black Spring.
Santana Caress Benitez is set to host Afropunk's virtual festival, Black Spring.
Photo by Rebecca Peeler
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Afropunk, a movement that has amplified alternative, genre-defying Black culture for over a decade, has tapped Miami as the backdrop for its upcoming Black Spring virtual festival, set to livestream on Friday, April 23.

A response to the social upheaval of 2020, Black Spring is a digital initiative to unite Black people across the diaspora with a focus on Afro-Latino and Afro-Caribbean culture. The music lineup encapsulates the festival’s theme with performances from Rico Nasty, Seu Jorge, Seafoam Walls, Dawer x Damper, Black Pantera, and Jup do Bairro.

Inspired by the new beginnings, a change in season, and the vibrancy of the Afro-Latino musical community, Black Spring aims to create a space for unapologetic celebration and liberation. The event will also continue the conversation about the varied Black experience across Latin American and Caribbean countries with segments broadcast from Bahia in Brazil and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Hosted by actress and chef Santana Caress Benitez, the festival will highlight the music, fashion, and cuisine of local neighborhoods like Little Haiti.

“We’re doing it in Miami for specific reasons because there’s also the Haitian community, which oftentimes get left out of the Latin conversation. We were very intentional about that and offering a conversation that a lot of Black folks probably don’t consider,” Benitez explains. “For me, it was very clear that we celebrate our foods and our connection, especially during these times. It’s important to see that we’re all family.”

Benitez says the crew — which includes industry veterans Tina Farris, Anthony Maddox, and Dominic Pearson  — was diligent about instituting precautions against COVID-19 via testing, quarantining, and making facemasks mandatory while highlighting Haitian restaurants and the city’s black history.

“We believe in COVID, and we’re dying in higher numbers than most people, so that’s the responsibility from a global Black media company,” she explains.

While touring Black historic landmarks in Miami, Benitez bridges the connection she discovered between her Puerto Rican heritage and other Caribbean customs in a cooking segment she filmed for the festival from her home on the island. Arroz con pollo translates to Haitian-style diri ak poul. Haitian epis re-emerges as sofrito in Latin America. Jamaican beef patties are a flaky, crispy cousin to pastelillos or empanadas. And the cyclical connections continue.

“It’s extremely empowering to see the direct connections and to be like, ‘Yo, we really are one big family,’” Benitez says. “And there’s power in numbers. With everything being online, we’re exposed to things we’ve never been exposed to before, so we're making that obvious and calling on all Black people from certain areas to come through.”

For the first time, Afropunk will team up with NPR’s Tiny Desk, which will kick things off with a "Tiny Desk Meets Afropunk" pre-show presentation at 3 p.m. The segment, hosted by Afropunk vet Jorge “Gitoo” Wright, will include performances by ChocQuibTown, Calma Carmona, Luedji Luna, and Nenny, and will stream exclusively on npr.org/music and YouTube.

Having co-curated the experience through the lens of her Puerto Rican, Black American, and Caribbean culture, Benitez says Black Spring is an unapologetic display of intersectionality.

In recent years, Afropunk has proven itself a space for unconventional expression. Whether in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Paris, or Johannesburg, revelers descend on the grounds of the festival wearing everything imaginable. From barely there garb and eccentric braided styles to gaudy costumes, it’s an alternate two-day universe where nothing’s off-limits and everyone’s welcome to partake.

Benitez and her co-host Gitoo gleaned from Afropunk’s signature presence when seeking out people to spotlight for Black Spring.

“The people [in Miami] we featured were styled out. One person we talked to was a Gucci model," Benitez recounts. "He’s beautiful, tall, and gorgeous. He was dressed wild — wild as in knowing exactly who he is and not giving a fuck."

A space to reclaim and revitalize for those all across the diaspora — that’s what Black Spring sets out to do: Give Black people room to be unapologetic and expansive in their celebrations.

“We’re not trying to convince anyone that we’re Black," Benitez says. "We’re demonstrating through relatable mediums like music, food, and beautiful people and color and visuals. Forget that other noise. This is for people who want to see us doing beautiful things."

Afropunk's Black Spring Festival. 4 p.m. Friday, April 23; planetafropunk.com. Admission is free.

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