From left: Go-go legends E (Optimystic Tribe/Lissen), Sugar Bear (EU), Bubba (Backyard Band), James Funk (RE and Proper Utensils) and Buggie (Backyard Band) attend the ceremonial signing of a bill making go-go the official music of the District of Columbia. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
From left: Go-go legends E (Optimystic Tribe/Lissen), Sugar Bear (EU), Bubba (Backyard Band), James Funk (RE and Proper Utensils) and Buggie (Backyard Band) attend the ceremonial signing of a bill making go-go the official music of the District of Columbia. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

With the stroke of a pen, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) made go-go the official music genre of the District, a historic milestone culminating what had been a monthslong fight — on the streets and in the Wilson Building — to preserve the sound and culture endemic to what people once called “Chocolate City.”

On Wednesday afternoon, elected officials, go-go industry leaders and fans, and longtime District residents converged on Culture House DC in Southwest on for a celebratory gathering marking the institutionalization of a well-regarded musical genre that, for a couple decades, had been maligned by local authorities as a cause of intra-community violence.

For Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), the passage and signing of the legislation he championed could pave the way for a renewed relationship between the District and native Washingtonians.

“Go-go is D.C.’s indigenous musical genre, and I am pleased to have championed the efforts at the Council to designate it as the official music of D.C.,” McDuffie said. “I look forward to working with Mayor Bowser and her administration for a thorough and impactful implementation, which will bring the go-go community closer to the District’s already strong economy and, in doing so, make our city more equitable and prosperous for all.”

Earlier this month, the D.C. Council unanimously approved passage of the bill that would designate go-go as the District’s official music genre and approve government-funded programming that supports and preserves the go-go sound and culture. In June, McDuffie introduced the legislation amid the growth of an internationally recognized effort to solidify go-go’s presence in the District and fight the telltale signs of displacement and cultural genocide.

Subsequent public hearings attracted the likes of go-go scholar Natalie Hopkinson, Big G of the Backyard Band, Michelle Blackwell, Ron Moten, and several others who’d stood on the front lines of what had become the Don’t Mute DC Movement.

Since April, when go-go supporters coalesced around Donald Campbell of Central Communications at his T-Mobile franchise on 7th Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest, the Don’t Mute DC movement has channeled the frustration of go-go’s marginalization into numerous public functions at the Reeves Center on 14th Street in Northwest, Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest, United Medical Center in Southeast, and other District landmarks.

Supporters have also parlayed the energy around this issue to revive a campaign for a go-go museum, the first iteration of which will launch this spring at Check-It Enterprises on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

Go-go emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a hybrid of funk, blues and salsa, thanks in part to the late Chuck Brown and his contemporaries. Throughout the decades, variations would grow out of the go-go sound, indicative of the influence of the dominant musical genre in urban communities at that time. Throughout the early 2000s, a bevy of up-and-coming groups — including the Takeova Band, or TOB — popularized the bounce beat sound that’s mainly characterized by the use of the rototoms.

Since April, TOB lead mic Chris has emerged as a voice in the go-go community supportive of its preservation and other causes of significance to District residents. On Wednesday morning, hours before Bowser would sign McDuffie’s bill into law, TOB kept Allison Seymour and other newscasters grooving to the bounce beat on the set of WTTG-TV’s “Fox 5 Morning News” — perhaps as a sign of what’s to come.

“Making go-go the District’s official music is a start. Shows are being documented and people are getting their business together,” Chris told The Informer. “Once we get legit with paperwork, LLCs, and all of that, that’s when go-go will turn the corner and we [would] need to go in the studio and perform. The whole mystique would change even more. Go-go is the only music [genre] where you can perform every week. It don’t stop — that’s why we call it go-go.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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