For almost 50 years, go-go has been the unofficial music of Washington, D.C. The former hallmark of Saturday nights in the metro area (also known as the DMV), go-go forebears like Chuck Brown and Rare Essence, and later acts like E.U., Backyard Band, and Mambo Sauce provided the soundtrack to family reunions, cookouts, pre-games, and, at one point, the intro to all home Washington Wizards and Mystics games.
Now, in an effort to protect go-go music—and homegrown D.C. culture—from the encroaching forces of gentrification and “urban renewal,” D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie has introduced a bill that would establish go-go as the “official music of the District of Columbia.”
Speaking to the Washington Post during the bill’s introduction on Tuesday, community activist Ron L. Moten said the legislation was “a great thing.”
“When people come here, they don’t know D.C., they don’t know our culture,” he said. “It’s that ignorance that causes people to disrespect our culture. So if we make it law, if we protect it, they’ll start to understand.”
The bill comes just a couple months after longtime D.C. residents rallied around go-go with the #DontMuteDC movement. The campaign was a response to a Metro PCS vendor in the historically black Shaw neighborhood turning off go-go music, which they had played from outdoor speakers for more than 20 years, because a resident from a luxury apartment complained about the sound.
The incident sparked an immediate and visceral backlash, with go-go acting as a proxy for larger anxieties and anger black residents felt toward a city that had displaced, ignored, or vilified them.
And while several D.C. Council members and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser threw their support behind #DontMuteDC, the Washington Post points out that, in the past, city officials have played a significant part in muting go-go in the district:
Violent neighborhood disputes led to clashes at concert venues and gave the music a bad reputation among city officials, eventually leading D.C. police to circulate a “go-go report” that listed upcoming go-go performances the department planned to patrol more heavily.
Eventually, said TCB band member Black Bo, climbing rents shuttered some go-go venues, while others began to turn away go-go bands, saying the violence and policing had become more trouble than it was worth.
The bill introduced Tuesday isn’t just aiming to protect go-go then, but revive it. As the Post reports, the bill would require D.C.’s mayor “to implement a program to support, preserve and archive go-go music and its history.”
“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 about his legislation. “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.”