The GO-GO Sound

I was approaching Baltimore Harbor when I heard the same syncopated rhythm that I heard intermittently on my one hour journey from Washington, D.C. Except this time it was live! It was right before my eyes so I could see the masterpiece as it was being created with two drumsticks, three buckets, a trash can, and a basket from a grocery store. What the man was creating was a sound called GO-GO. It made me want to dance, pray to my ancestors, and take the finest sista I saw back to my dingy little room at the Motel 6. It made me feel at once liberated and a slave to all my passions. It reminded me that I was an African, but also that I was very far from home.

They don’t play GO-GO music at all in the San Francisco Bay Area. I mean like never. I only know what it is because several years ago I asked a friend of mine that had gone to Howard what it was like to party in D.C. and he told me “The girls out there really like GO-GO.” I looked at him quizzically thinking that he was saying that they were strippers. I kept thinking GO-GO dancers and for some reason I conjured up Demi Moore’s dance routine in the movie “Striptease.” Thankfully he began to explain it to me. “It’s like that Amerie song. That’s kind of like GO-GO…ok ok you remember that song ‘Doing the butt’? Now that song is definitely GO-GO” It was only then that I understood. But that song was from the “School Daze” soundtrack. I think I was in the 2nd grade when that came out and after they stopped playing it on the radio I never heard anything else like it. But that was obviously because I had never been to Baltimore or the DMV.

So “Doing the Butt” isn’t just a song but rather it’s part of a movement that has been going strong for several decades. Like stepping in Chicago and Going Dumb in the Bay, GO-GO is a D.C. thing. And as I listened to it I felt very deprived. Why hadn’t I known about this? Why hadn’t this sound made its way to the bay like Trap Music, House Music, or Dance Hall? I was so enamored with how the continent of Africa had touched the region where I was vacationing. The sound I was hearing was so ill, it was so lit, it was so pure. I was feeling it. I put a little money down in front of the musician and left on my way to get crab cakes which were better than the ones they sell in the Bay Area but definitely didn’t live up to the hype as far as all of the fantastic things that I had heard about them, but there were no expectations for my experience with GO-GO. GO-GO somehow remains D.C.’s secret. GO-GO is an uncorrupted manifestation of ancient African musical expertise. I had to travel across the country to hear this sound and the journey was worth it.

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