Take Me to the Go-Gos

If you’ve sat in a conversation with me for more than 30-minutes, at some point I’ve probably drifted into some ideas of afro-futurism; black people planning their future and preserving their history as radical acts of time-travel and time reclamation. As a practical matter. I constantly wrestle with how we ENSURE spaces for black people in the future. I believe that capturing black stories today means that you envision a social place for black people in the future. As a land-use planner, I’m also compelled with making sure that there are physical spaces for us to call home and to freely practice their heritage and cultural traditions.

A key element of Black American cultural tradition is the oral tradition, via black musical traditions. Black Music (particularly Black folk music) holds a wealth of information about black society; black geographies; and black life.

About two years ago, I started saying that I wanted to do some form of digital collection that documents and connects the social (and communal) aspect of go-go music with the spatial and political geography of the DC Metro Region. At the time, my thoughts were that the music would struggle existing in the same manner that it had before; because the social and physical infrastructure of the black urban community had been socially and physically ruptured. Government-influenced rapid neighborhood change (I really don’t want to use the term “gentrification.” Read my gentrification position paper to learn why), didn’t just change Census tract demographics; but it contributed to the erosion of black cultural heritage and the evolution of cultural traditions. Essentially, I wanted to know how gentrification; policing; political violence directed towards the urban black community in Washington, DC metro region, could be understood through identifying where; when; how; and why go-go is performed.  In order to determine how go-go has been impacted by rampant political and economic change in the region, I thought it would be best to start with the music and the spaces where the music was created.

Think about it — the music tells you where the black neighborhoods were and calls out different neighbors (in celebration or in memoriam). The pa-tapes, or recorded albums from each of the shows, give dates and locations for when the events were held and the venues (social spaces) where the music was recorded. The go-go is the oral narrative in itself; while also being the cultural tradition.

I had all those lofty, ideas and did nothing. Then last year, my professor Dr. Lung-Amam, encouraged me to write about it for a Just City concept paper — and I flaked again. But then this year there was #dontmutedc and I kept thinking — damn, why didn’t I do something! So fast forward (or rewind) to two-weeks ago and I was in a session with Dr. Marisa Parham, who was speaking on Black Digitalites and she asked everyone what was the future we envisioned for black people or a digital project that we could imagine. And of course, I said…”Some way to collect stories of black musical traditions across the United States from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s — New Orleans Bounce; DC Go-Go; Miami Bass; Houston Chopped. These stories of these places and even the physical places are rapidly disappearing; if they are not already gone.”

At that point, I said…”forget it” and I was like I’m going to do this thing. And idk if it was because I was trying to procrastinate from doing some other work; but I actually started to do it. It being identifying the locations of go-go venues in the DC region. Thanks to help from great people; reading old newspaper articles; reading The Beat and GoGo Live (I’ve had the books for years); I’ve been able to compile a list and identify over 100 go-go venues in the DC area in four days. Kato Hammond dropped 60 like KD.

I’ll have more updates in the future; but I needed to do this twitter storm, just as a form of documentation and accountability. Peace!

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