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ActivismMusic

PROTESTERS SAY #DONTMUTEDC TO A GO-GO BEAT

May 8, 2019
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Chuck Brown felt like “Bustin’ Loose”. EU (Experience Unlimited) knew there was nothing wrong with doing da butt all night long. Ashlee Simpson may have had a mainstream hit with “Pieces of Me,” but Rare Essence turned it into a new cookout classic with their funk heavy go-go cover.

If you live in Washington, D.C. like I do, I don’t even need to tell you about go-go music. It mixes blues, jazz, funk, and gospel to create a percussion-heavy style that has been the heartbeat of Chocolate City since I was a kid. Go-go was created in D.C. at a time when the city was majority Black.

“D.C. ranked among the few cities in the United States where Black people could not be called ‘minorities,’ with the whiff of inferiority that label carries with it,” Natalie Hopkinson writes in her book  Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. “To live in a Chocolate City is to taste an unquantifiable richness. It gives a unique angle of vision, an alternate lens to see world power. In a Chocolate City, Black is normal.”

Black go-go listeners and the city’s largely white newcomers have historically been at odds leading to tensions in the city.

D.C. used to routinely shut down go-go clubs and shows saying that the music brought violent behavior to the city. A D.C. police commander once testified at that the blame on nightclub crime can be pinned squarely on the music:  “It’s this go-go,” Cmdr. Larry D. McCoy of the 3rd Police District told the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. “If you have a black-tie event, you don’t have any problem. But if you bring go-go in, you’re going to have problems.” Rumors swirled about police keeping secret tabs on go-go clubs.

And last month, a resident at the newly built. ultra-swanky Shay condominiums (where rent starts around $3,000 a month) tried to lodge a complaint about the Metro PCS store on the corner on Florida Avenue. The store has been playing go-go music on this corner for 30 years. For a new resident to move in and ask them to turn it off was an at attack on an entire way of Black life in D.C.

Black residents of D.C. are dealing with a lot! The staggering rents are pushing longtime residents out and leaving D.C. with the highest level of gentrification in the country; health access inequalities are allowing mothers to die in childbirth; and housing inequalities are keeping many Black D.C. residents from even finding healthy meals. And there is the threat of gentrification attacking the campus of Howard University. Now on top of all that, they’re telling us turn down our go-go music?

D.C.’s Black residents decided they’d had enough.

Sometimes called the Godfather of Go-Go, the late Chuck Brown, once called for everybody to grab their phone and go call their crew to have a block party. “As long as the beat don’t break, and the wine keep popping, we gonna keep rocking til the cops come knocking,” he sang. On Tuesday, that’s exactly what we did.

In response to the continued attacks on go-go music and the criminalization of Blackness is D.C., the people took to Florida Avenue for a block party protest, dancing, drumming, and playing go-go music into the night as part of #Mochella (“Mo” is slang for friend in D.C.) Nearly 3,000 people crowded onto the intersection to tell everyone that Black D.C. is here to stay.

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