By Micha Green
AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor
While D.C. has always had a special place in its heart for Go-Go, as the homegrown sound, 2019 has most definitely been a year for Go-Go and its resurgence on both a local and national scale. Between the upset and frustration over gentrification, Go-Go and D.C.’s cultural sustainability was catapulted to the forefront of District news with the Long Live Go-Go and #Don’tMuteDC movements and ultimately, Moechella, massive “Go-Gos with a goal,” that took over major corridors, intersections and important sites in the District, and gained attention in the area and beyond. This year’s BET Awards paid homage to Go-Go, with D.C. natives Taraji P. Henson, Regina Hall and Sugar Bear and E.U. “doing the butt.” Now, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser is declaring Nov. 17-23 “Go-Go Awareness Week.”
Bowser began the proclamation, which she tweeted on Nov. 17, describing Go-Go Awareness Week a “celebration of Washington, D.C.’s indigenous music,” created by guitarist and D.C. treasure, Chuck Brown, who is affectionately called, “The Godfather of Go-Go.”
The mayor explained some of the reasons for the commemoration; she cited the history of the music, recognized key people to the genre’s founding and thriving and noted the fact that Go-Go is instrumental to the D.C. sound.
For those unfamiliar with the Go-Go sound, or the “Go-Go swing,” as Brown called it, Bowser in her proclamation explained it as a “blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop with a focus on lo-fi percussion instruments and funk-style rhythms.” The Go-Go sound has gone through a variety of waves, from a heavy funk sound, to “the pocket,” the moment when the percussion truly shines as becomes the guiding rhythm of the song, to the bounce beat, which is similar to the pocket, but with a more modern and distinguishable cadence that literally makes one want to bounce.
With its history rooting back to the 1970s and Brown, the mayor also described Go-Go as an intergenerational musical style and genre. “Go-Go music is the creative force that has inspired generations of Washington, D.C. families socially, culturally, and artistically,” she wrote. Recent movements such as Moechella, highlighted the multi-general nature and attractiveness of the music, as young and more seasoned citizens jammed to the Go-Go sound.
This intergenerational appeal of the music allowed for Go-Go Awareness Week to kickoff at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School, in Southeast, Washington, D.C. Not only are D.C. residents in high school infatuated with Go-Go, Bowser said the kickoff at Ballou was also a means of celebrating Washingtonians, “who attained their musical education in D.C. Public Schools,” including acts like Sugar Bear, James “Jas Funk” Thomas and the Junkyard Band.
“Washington, D.C. is proud of its native Go-Go music and the talented musicians that have created our city’s distinct musical sound that transcends geographical and demographic boundaries,” Mayor Bowser wrote.
The AFRO caught up with members of the Go-Go community, who weighed in on Bowser’s proclamation of Go-Go Awareness Week.
Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, member and communications representative for Rare Essence, explained why Go-Go Awareness Week is so important.
“This is a tremendous honor to be ‘officially’ recognized in this way by the city. We are very grateful to Mayor Bowser and the City Council for the support they are providing to the Go-Go community,” Johnson said. “Washingtonians, especially those who have grown up listening to the music, should be proud that their homegrown sound is still here 40 plus years later.”
Critical Condition Band’s Perry Green noted Go-Go’s rollercoaster history within the District. While Go-Go is deep-rooted in District culture, the last decade or so saw a decline in the music being performed in the District after the violence associated with the genre.
“I think it’s been a long time coming. The Go-Go industry has been waiting a long time for this kind of recognition and it feels good to finally have our music and culture respected, not only by its musicians and patrons, but now also respected by the highest officer of legislation in our city,” Green said. “Just a decade ago, Go-Go’s culture was vilified by our local officials, as they blamed our music and “dancehall” atmosphere for the spike in violence at the time. So they passed laws that made it hard for venues to feature Go-Go, which nearly killed the genre. Five years ago, Go-Go was practically an endangered species.”
In sharing appreciation for the Mayor’s efforts, Johnson also noted that he hoped for more collaboration with Go-Go bands and the District government in prospects of further celebrations, educational opportunities and forms of engagement with the indigenous genre.
“I think Go-Go Awareness week is a great idea. We appreciate Mayor Bowser naming Nov. 17-23 as the time that the genre is highlighted,” he said. “Hopefully we will be able to partner with the city in doing some educational programs, musician workshop and concert events to help promote this week in the future.”
Green also shared how he’d like for Go-Go Awareness Week to expand. “Not only should there be a Go-Go Awareness Week, but I’m hoping we don’t stop there. If there’s one weakness that Go-Go is enduring right now, it’s our current disconnect with the youth,” he said.
“We need to be teaching the history, art and culture of Go-Go music, just as we teach history and art of Jazz music. If we do that, we’ll be ensuring the survival of Go-Go forever,” Green added.