Is Washington, D.C. Losing Its Funk?


It was just another gig at a D.C. area nightclub, one of several shows the band Suttle Thoughts plays each week, drawing hundreds of young professionals in their 20s and 30s — a self-proclaimed "grown and sexy" crowd. But a club manager stopped the band at the door when he noticed one of the musicians bringing in a set of conga drums, bandleader Chi Ali told me.

If you are in or near the District and you see a young black bandleader trailed by a horn section, guitars, keyboards, cow bells and congas, that can only mean one thing: They play go-go music, the area's unique style of funk. And if you run a club, having a go-go band perform can be complicated. On the upside, the place is going to be packed, and you will rake it in at the bar. On the downside, the crowds can get volatile, drawing extra police scrutiny.


On that day early this year, the club manager didn't want to bother. So he told the band to get its things and go.

This is what it has come to: one of the city's only true indigenous art forms — the one generations of Washingtonians have grooved to — unceremoniously cast away. Not only is go-go being shut out from clubs that could still support it, the retail stores that nurtured the music are fading away.

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Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington, D.C.-based author whose current projects deal with the arts, gender and public life. She is the author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter