WASHINGTON — Musicians, city council members and community activists joined outside the D.C. hall of government Tuesday to say go-go isn’t going anywhere.

A new bill, introduced by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, D-Ward 5, seeks to enshrine go-go as the “official music of the District of Columbia.”

Go-go is already the unofficial music of the District of Columbia.

Born in Washington’s live-music scene of the 1970s, go-go earned its name from one of the genre’s founders, the late Chuck Brown, who said he was trying to keep people on the dance floor with a beat that “just goes and goes.”

The music’s distinct blend of percussive funk, blues, salsa, gospel and soul music has pulsed through the air at block parties, concerts and on a street corner where a neighborhood electronics shop has long doubled as a go-go hotspot.

In April, the store — a Metro PCS vendor in the Shaw neighborhood that has been playing go-go from its outdoor speakers since 1995 — suddenly went quiet.

Supporters at a rally April 10 celebrate the music coming back to Central Communications, a Metro PCS vendor on the corner of Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. Washington Post photo by Marissa Lang

A resident of luxury apartments down the block from the electronics store complained about the neighborhood’s signature soundtrack, eventually prompting T-Mobile to ask owner Donald Campbell to turn off the congas and timbales.

The ensuing uproar gave rise to days of protest concerts and a new rallying cry reverberating around the city: #DontMuteDC.

Even after Campbell’s music returned days later, the hashtag slogan remains a firm stand against forces of gentrification as Washington struggles to maintain its identity and culture amid an influx of newcomers and changing neighborhoods.

McDuffie said he found it inspiring.

“It’s important for people to not have to wonder or guess about how important go-go is to the District of Columbia,” McDuffie said. “Especially with the anxiety right now with black people and people of color being displaced, it’s important that we take the steps we can take to enshrine this history. This is part of our culture.”

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, D, and several D.C. Council members jumped in to support the #DontMuteDC effort in April. While some community members were grateful for the extra weight behind their pressure campaign, others criticized officials for supporting go-go when it was trendy to do so.

“Go-go culture, to be frank, was historically created by people who came from neighborhoods that are often overlooked,” said Aja Taylor, director of advocacy and organizing for the nonprofit Bread for the City. “When you look at displacement that’s happening in the city, these are the same neighborhoods. Black and brown people who are living on low income, who created this culture and made D.C. what it is today are being pushed out.”

For the last decade, go-go has been in decline.

But McDuffie said he hopes that by making go-go the city’s official jam, the music and the culture that surrounds it may soon see a revival.

His legislation would “require the mayor to implement a program to support, preserve and archive go-go music and its history.”

“As long as I’ve known, it has galvanized young people across the District of Columbia. So it shouldn’t be targeted because that’s not what it’s about. That shouldn’t be what it’s about,” McDuffie said. “Go-go music is about unity. Go-go music is about bringing people together.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: