D.C.'s Black history told through 'Go-Go Live'
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 8/17/2012, 10:05 a.m.
It's the 21st century and maybe you've gotten tired of hearing about gentrification and its effect on what used to be majority-Black enclaves in big cities. Regardless, majority-Black enclaves would like to have a place to call their own.
Natalie Hopkinson's "Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City" is the story of Washington, D.C., and its Black community told through the history of go-go music--a distinctly D.C. brand of Black music that never made it out of the DMV region (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) that incorporates gospel, funk, the blues and various Latin rhythms.
Hopkinson, who's currently a contributing editor to The Root and a journalism professor at Georgetown University, does her profession proud by shining a reporter's light on the development of D.C.'s Black neighborhoods and its reputation as a "chocolate city" in juxtaposition with the mostly white politicians who do the nation's business not too far away.
Go-go music gave the Black community something to feel proud of, something that was there at a time when many upwardly-mobile Blacks and whites fled to the suburbs due to the influx of crack cocaine and the development of gangs in the rest of the city. Go-go's call-and-response style, which shouted out local neighborhoods and crews, didn't lend itself well to becoming a pop culture phenomenon like hip-hop eventually did, but that didn't stop people from attempting to exploit and cash in on the scene. But the go-go community, like the Black community, preferred to keep its traditions, business and revenue in-house. Through urban clothing companies, CDs and the renting and owning of spaces, go-go music and the go-go industry was Black-owned and Black-influenced.
Hopkinson details the rise of go-go culture along with the rise of police crackdowns on go-go gatherings, where neighborhood beefs would be settled from time to time, and she does it all without getting too academic, even when she's in fact being academic. She makes the reader feel what's going on by adding her personal accounts of life in D.C. as a Canadian transplant and immersing herself into its culture.
Her personal accounts make it all the more poignant when she details the slow gentrification of D.C.'s Black neighborhoods and the real estate game that's played to displace the poor and provide better accommodations for the new middle- to upper-middle-class, mostly white residents. Go-go's parties kept being moved from the city to several parts of Maryland and continues its nomadic journey for the reader to witness. Hopkinson shows the strength of the Black community in the eyes of its eventual displacement. "Go-Go Live" isn't just the history of a genre of Black music; it's the history of Black people in a certain region of America. It's the history of Black America itself.