By Malik Obee, Special to the AFRO

The conga drum of the GoGo sound has been the beat of Washington, D.C. for over 50 years. From the Washington Nationals adapting the Godfather of GoGo, Chuck Brown’s, “Bustin Loose” as its home run anthem, to the GoGo blasting from the Boost Mobile on Florida Avenue, the music is everywhere. On Feb. 19, a bill will finally pass cementing GoGo as the official music of the Nation’s Capital. 

Following Mayor Muriel Bowser’s signing of the bill at Culture House in Southwest, D.C., 4 p.m., Feb. 19, the celebration will continue with DJ Supa Dan spinning plenty of classic GoGo songs. To cap the event, the famous and celebrated group, Backyard Band will be performing live. To many, this may be years too late, but it couldn’t come at a better time for an area going through a major facelift, all the while working on its cultural sustainability.

In 2012, the loss of the “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown reverberated around the Washington Metropolitan area. 

The native son of Gaston, North Carolina was adopted and has been revered as one of Washington’s greatest residents. After spending his early childhood years in Gaston, the Brown family moved to Washington. Trying to survive through the perils of poverty, Brown dropped out of school, working menial jobs to get by. To supplement his inconsistent wages, he dabbled in petty crimes. In the mid 1950’s, Brown was convicted of an aggravated assault by a Virginia jury. Those charges would later be bumped to murder after the victim died while in care. The eight years Brown served in Lorton Correctional Facility would end up being a blessing in disguise, as Brown swapped five cartons of cigarettes with an inmate for his guitar. Upon release, Brown went back to working heavy-labor jobs, while trying to turn his prison guitar hobby into a career. 

In 1964, Brown joined Jerry Butler and the Earls of Rhythm, a cover band that played the latest hits at clubs around the area. He’d briefly join Los Latinos the next year, before leaving to start his own band. In 1966, Brown formed The Soul Searchers, leading the way as the front man. The group combined elements of jazz and funk, having minor regional success. But it was the influence of the late James Brown that influenced the Godfather of GoGo to toy with the instrumentation and sound of his band, creating original content. 

Surely Brown didn’t anticipate that he would become the face of not only an entire genre, but the sound of a city and its surrounding areas. One of GoGo’s greatest gifts (and curses) has been the balance between staying grounded with the locals, yet traveling via word of mouth. Even when The Soul Searchers’ 1979 hit “Bustin Loose” shot to Number One on the Billboard R&B charts, Brown spent as much time performing in the local GoGo venues and parks as he did touring abroad. While Brown and The Soul Searchers perfected a sound uniquely crafted to keep the party going, youngsters from all quadrants took the unclear blueprint and put their own twist on it. It’s how D.C. was gifted Junkyard Band straight out of the Barry Farms Dwellings in Southeast, constructing instruments out of material stolen and molded to mimic the congas and drums they couldn’t afford.

The beauty of GoGo has always been that it gives everyone a blank slate. It’s why the sound has continued to evolve for decades. It’s how in the early 2000’s, the Bounce Beat sound was created, incorporating the timbales and roto toms to create a faster paced sound. But GoGo has always been about paying homage. 

An artform so young in theory, yet passed down by generations, GoGo is a pastime for families from all over the area. Fathers go to Backyard shows with their sons, or pass down their old PA tapes like a mother would pass down pearls to her daughter before marriage. 

  • GoGo’s legacy is why it’s so important that the legislation to make it D.C.’s official music is passed, and now. Many of the GoGo venues of the past, from The Blackhole on Georgia Ave to the Lepearl on Central Ave in Capitol Heights, Maryland are gone. The clothing stores that represented GoGo culture like the HOBO and Madness are replaced by CBD shops owned by transplants, some of whom can’t tell Chuck Brown from Charlie Brown. It’s not merely a Black and White thing, but the raised cost of living has pushed many of D.C.’s lifelong inhabitants out. With that comes the replacement of age-old fixtures with new people and new cultures. 

This bill gives one of the last things true to the Washington, D.C. of old, the recognition it deserves in a place that’s used GoGo as a driving force to keep on going for decades.