‘Black Energy Punk Women’ rework Brooklyn into their musical playground
From left: Sivonyia Beckford and Anesia Saunders. (Photos: Mycah Hazel)
A new organization wants to provide a safe space for New Yorkers – and Soundcloud recommendations. Through their “cozy concerts”, intimate shows with local artists, the Black Power Punk Girls promote black artists in music and film genres in which black women are underrepresented, or in genres that are indefinable. Originally based in South Florida, the group hosted their first Brooklyn event this month at Williamsburg’s New Women Space in a crowded home.
“It can be a challenge to be a black artist and not really relate to mainstream art,” said Sivonyia Beckford, who started the project with best friend and fellow artist Anesia Saunders. Beckford’s own music doesn’t follow a simple formula that ranges from neo-soulful, Lion Babe-like melodies (“11916”) to weighty, eerily soulful instrumentals (“Lawless”). “I think it’s so important that we have rooms like this so that black women don’t just feel ostracized for being themselves. It’s a trend in the entertainment industry and we want to break that mold. “
The leisurely concert in Brooklyn consisted of over 10 performers in a variety of styles, including Philadelphia singer Whomst’s production-centric bedroom pop and New York rapper Contraband’s pregame playlist. The performers played published and unreleased songs. Attendees also enjoyed the spoken word performances by model and writer Khafeeon Love and Saunders.
Saunders, who juggles acting, writing and modeling, said it was a fulfillment to “host so many different types of artists: people who rap, people who have guitars”.
Although the Black Power Punk Girls were firmly entrenched in their identity as a support system for women trying to get into the music and film industries, they had a much vague mission when they were founded in 2016. Saunders and Beckford founded the organization at the University of West Florida. in Pensacola, a town on the “Floribama bank”. The two met after joining the same sorority and formed a special friendship that grew through their roots in Fort Lauderdale and Jamaica.
“Especially in a school that was mostly white and almost in Alabama, there needed to be a safe space,” Saunders said. “The kind of sisterhood we found as friends, we wanted to share that love and feeling.”
Saunders and Beckford started creating the Black Power Punk Girls website in 2016, which allows artists to showcase their work on the website. They also used Instagram to share work by black artists like British punk band Nova Twins and Brooklyn-based film producer Octavia Clahar.
On January 1, 2017, they held their first event called the Good Vibe Circle. Everyone was invited to a quiet night of yoga, wine, and goals that manifested on Dania Beach in southeast Florida.
“People just really liked how brave the whole idea was,” Beckford said. “They really appreciated the fact that we did everything to make people feel safe. People who have never been in the same room together, people who don’t go out often, people who do. “
The duo received considerable support from other artists in Pensacola and from groups at the University of West Florida. However, they quickly realized that just being a “safe space” would not be a goal.
“We were confused about moving forward and not having a specific mission,” says Saunders. “So we wanted to do something – what is specific and important to us? What kind of space do we not see that we want to see? “
The mission to nurture black women in music and film was to pay attention not only to the extremely white space around them, but also to their own experiences as black women in art and as black women in South Florida.
“In many ways, I’ve always been an underdog when it comes to expressing myself,” says Beckford, a lover of science fiction films, thrift, and Sevdaliza. “I was always known as the weird one in my group of friends. I’m just expressive and abstract with my clothes back then. ”
“I used to listen to rock music as a kid,” says Saunders. Paramore has a special place in her heart. “It was my preferred genre, especially in middle school. I just felt like I was outside in many rooms. “
Saunders attended mostly white schools from childhood. “I think those things inspired it because it was like, ‘I can like rock music and I can be a proud black person,'” she says. “It doesn’t take away who I am.”
Their experiences not only inspired the new focus of the Black Power Punk Girls, but also inspired them to move to New York – and bring BPPG with them.
“It was hard to express yourself [Pensacola] because in some ways you were shunned or seen as doing too much trying to express yourself, ”says Saunders. “I think it made us especially feel that this space was kind of limiting for us in Pensacola.”
The duo hosted their first two BPPG events at their Queens apartment before hosting their first Brooklyn event at the New Women Space.
“The kind of reception we only got the other day from people who said they appreciate this space because they wouldn’t have it has been very positive,” says Saunders. “This is necessary.”
Since the event, Saunders and Beckford have said they already have musicians making an effort to perform on their next show.
“We’ve never had that much in Florida,” said Beckford. “We haven’t had the opportunity to find as many black women artists in Florida as we do here.”
Going forward, Black Power Punk Girls say we can definitely expect more events in Brooklyn and across the city. They’ll be hosting Sivonyia’s album release party on June 30th. The place will be on her Instagram. They hope to continue with cozy concerts and screenings with black women filmmakers. They also want to host events in other cities one day.
“I see Black Power Punk Girls in the future as an all-black woman powerhouse,” says Beckford. “That’s what we’re going for. Ending up with black women doing all kinds of artistic endeavors and creative things. ”