On September 15, 2019 the GoGo Symphony will play at Chuck Brown Park with members of the National Symphony Orchestra. This event marks part of a mainstream institutional shift in the acknowledgement of go-go, DC’s own genre of funk dance music.
Nico Hobson of DC’s online “GoGo Radio” hosted a heart felt interview to discuss the significance of the show. Guests included National Symphony Orchestra’s Manager of Community Engagement Vaughn Bradley-Willeman, vocalist MS CXREE, percussionist Mighty Moe, and GoGo Symphony founder/composer Liza Figueroa Kravinsky.
Go-go music originated in the neighborhoods of Washington D.C. in the early 1970s. People who lived, worked, grew up, and thrived on the infectious, seemingly never ending, undeniable beat. The beat is bass heavy and percussive; with a fusion of African, jazz, funk, and R&B stylings.
It served as an anthem to get the party started and keep it going. It was an anthem to spread news about what was going on in its neighborhoods. It was an anthem for change and justice. Most importantly, it was an anthem for its people – that is, its mostly African American fans. Bands like Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, and the legendary Chuck Brown were staples.
“This culture is unique to the world. The [music] is based and only played here,” said Nico. “Go-go music is a feel music…If you don’t feel it, you won’t understand it… The most impressive moment I went to in go-go in my life… was when I saw Backyard Band playing at the Kennedy Center… I saw cultures from around the world… enjoying go-go… I was able to look out at the crowd and I was just awestruck… The bartenders were like, ‘we ain’t never been this busy before…’” he described, referring to last New Year’s Eve when the go-go band filled in at the last minute for another act.
That was a strong contrast to his past experience when arts institutions did not embrace the music, leaving its fans feeling alienated.
“We rode our bikes by the Kennedy Center, but we never went inside,” Dee Dee recalled about the home of the National Symphony Orchestra.
“Right, (we rode) down and back. But we didn’t ever go in. We didn’t even think about it,” Nico chimed in, adding that many African Americans have viewed the Kennedy Center as a “for whites only” arts venue.
As time went on, go-go music experienced a rise and fall in local popularity largely because of local governments actively silencing the genre due to perceived associated violence. Bars, clubs and any place that played go-go music routinely got shut down. Go-go’s biggest selling point is the live performances; and without the ability to perform, listenership saw a drastic decline.
Meanwhile, classical music has been experiencing a similar decline in popularity and listenership in the past decades.
“Classical and go-go both thrive in being live… They can partner together to build each other’s audiences,” Liza explains.
Gentrification has been changing the landscape of the city, and movements like ‘#dontmutedc, whose street protests call for keeping go-go alive, have gained mainstream media attention.
Inspired by the movements, Liza created a petition urging the Kennedy Center to program more go-go music.
“[The petition] did not land on deaf ears,” Vaughn explained on behalf of the venue. “We’re all moving to do more in this genre.”
“You know, GoGo Symphony needs to play with the NSO (National Symphony Orchestra) at Echostage,” Nico suggested to a smiling roundtable.
On Sunday September 15th, 6 pm, members of the National Symphony Orchestra and GoGo Symphony will be joining forces and performing at Chuck Brown Park. Admission is free and everyone is welcome. Get your tickets here.
You can listen to the whole radio interview below: