GoGo music is a sound indigenous to D.C. that fuses musical genres and gained popularity in the 70s, with groups such as Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, and remains relevant today. (Courtesy Photo)

By Carl Thomas
Special to the AFRO

Langdon park day June 1987- that was my first introduction to GoGo (that I can remember), both as a genre of music and a subculture. I remember singing Chuck Brown’s  “Run Joe” through the house and my mom screaming, “Don’t wish the police on our door!” Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers had already topped the Billboard Hot R&B chart with his smash hit “Bustin’ Loose” in 1979 and by this point even a kid like me knew who he was. GoGo had its roots even further back than 1979. “The music started in the late ’60s and ’70s, but didn’t really bust loose in the way audiences know it now until the early ’80s,” according to GoGo historian Charles Stephenson Jr.

Between 1965 and 1966, several local bands formed, playing mostly Funk music with a bit of D.C. culture sprinkled on top. One of those bands, Los Lotinos, was led by Brown, now known as The Godfather of GoGo, and eventually would change its name to the Soul Searchers and find national acclaim for several singles. Competition between Los Lotinos and another band, Black Heat, intensified and they each began to develop deeper, more nuanced styles of funk. By 1974, Black Heat, who were the GoGo band to be signed to a major label, had already released two of their three studio albums on Atlantic Records, taking their place among other Funk/ Soul bands like Earth, Wind, and Fire and Parliament Funkadelic. They were a GoGo band but they did not perform GoGo music.

In an effort to keep partygoers from leaving the dance floor, Brown’s band began to blend one song into another, while offering a more melodic and rhythm-heavy form of Funk. This adjustment became the basis for an entirely authentic genre of music. Brown developed the GoGo beat from a Gospel song from his childhood. While his competition continued the Funk styles of national acts and found success, the Godfather of GoGo stayed true to his sound and by late 1978, the sound was starting to catch on, not only with fans, but other bands as well. Experience Unlimited (EU) was initially a rock band when founded in 1974, but played a gig with Brown and the Soul Searchers and also adapted the “GoGo swing.” Even successful Funk bands like Trouble Funk followed suit and by 1976, Brown convinced Soul Searchers’ halftime DJ James Funk to start Rare Essence.

By 1987, Rare Essence was a headliner of its own. Later that year, at the tender age of 7, I hopped in a car with a friend’s older brother and headed unknowingly to what I now consider one of the most important moments in D.C.’s long musical history… GoGo Live at the Capital Center. This wasn’t a run of the mill GoGo. This was, and remains, the GoGo of the century. 

Not only was the sold-out arena of 24,000 able to see Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers perform timeless hits like “Run Joe” and Rare Essence’s, “Do You Know What Time It Is,” but the crowd was also thoroughly introduced to younger, edgier bands playing a style of GoGo that would frame a new sound for the next generation. Experience Unlimited (E.U.) killed “Shake it like a White Girl” and would later earn national acclaim for their iconic song “Da Butt,” which was performed during a party scene in Spike Lee’s film School Daze in 1988. E.U. is the only GoGo band to be nominated for a Grammy award and their impact remains today as seen when actress Glynn Close performed the title dance at this year’s Academy Awards show 33 years later. 

Bands like Rare Essence had strong melodies and original music. The Junkyard Band, which had some band members as young as nine, began to depart from the Funk roots of GoGo and lean toward the emerging Hip Hop and Rap genres. DC Scorpio was blending rap and GoGo with a barrage of hustler lingo, while Little Benny and the Masters kept it light with songs like “Cat in the Hat.” GoGo had so many faces to display and in the 1980s and early 90s there seemed to be a band for every type of listener and they were getting signed to distribution deals, recording contracts and even television appearances. The Backyard Band emerged in the early 1990’s as the “Bad boys of GoGo” and were able to solidify themselves among the legends of the genre. 

“My introduction to Go-Go was an eye opener- two different experiences. Hearing my first P.A. Tape then actually going to see it live. Go-Go has made a huge impact on my life, which has allowed me to share the same experience with younger folks. It’s nothing like having a genre of music to call our own,” said Public Relations & Social Media Marketing Manager for The Backyard Band Jason “Cocky” Lewis.

As the regional popularity and relative national appeal grew, so too did the number of bands. GoGo began to dominate the club scene in the mid 1990’s and with more crowds came more challenges. As a genre, GoGo relies on audience participation and innately has a call and response component. As a side effect of being a major draw, one could conclude that rival neighborhoods may end up attending the same show. As this occurrence increased, neighborhood disputes began to play out in the clubs as each neighborhood vied to be mentioned by those on the microphone. 

The late 1990s and early 2000s were perforated with violent endings and early shutdowns. Police and community groups started to really point the finger at the genre as the culprit for the violence occurring during the shows and there was an aggressive push to eliminate live GoGo. Many bands sought refuge in neighboring Maryland and Virginia establishments, as District club owners began banning GoGo bands from performing. 

As artists, the GoGo community was unwilling to be silenced. As the violent connotation continued to permeate the genre, new bands began to form. Groups like Familiar Faces and L!ssen started rebranding what club goers can expect from a GoGo band, weaving sophisticated melodies and vocalists with the unmistakable percussion heavy beats. 

In April 2019, the Metro PCS store on Georgia Avenue, which has played GoGo on loud external speakers since 1995 was forced to silence its speakers due to complaints from residents of a new luxury high rise building. After several days of protests by D.C. residents, the CEO of T-mobile, which recently purchased the store, allowed the music to continue. That didn’t stop several lawmakers from unsuccessfully offering a bill (three times) to try to eliminate live street performances and amplified music. 

“We need policymakers to step up,” Howard University Assistant Professor Natalie

Hopkinson said. “No doubt, the music will continue, but we have an opportunity to share with more people and grow it. It’s going to require some political will at a time when everyone is going to be telling people art is not important.

In direct response to the Metro PCS incident, the #DontMuteDC movement was initiated. To date, #DontMuteDC and Long Live GoGo has organized several protests, concerts and community events aimed at bringing attention to the attack on D.C.’s official music. Longtime residents are squarely behind the effort to protect their right to enjoy GoGo music and culture. DMore information on the Don’t Mute DC movement can be found at www.dontmutedc.com.

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