Go-go music is a game changer in DC politics

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Leaflets, commercials, and yard signs are all common tools of political campaigns, but in Washington DC – this election could be decided to the sound of a different beat; the mixture of driving percussion and funk that is go-go, a form of music that’s indigenous to Washington.

Go-go music is a product of one man, Chuck Brown, whom people all across the District point to as the godfather of go-go music. “I was trying to create this sound and it ended up being a sound for the whole town, when I heard other bands jump on it, it did me all the good in the world,” says Brown.

Go-go defines Washington—the real Washington—the Washington of the people who live in the vast neighborhoods far beyond the familiar monuments and parks.

“Go-go music to Washington is as jazz is to New Orleans’s as some other things – as film is to Hollywood,” says Marion Barry the city’s most enduring politician, former mayor and current councilman.

Barry’s ability to weather political adversity and even scandal is firmly grounded in his connection to the way go-go translates community action into public policy. “I took care of the people and their needs as best we could that’s why people love what we were doing and music was just a part of the whole situation,” continues Barry.

Mayor Adrian Fenty”:http://www.thegrio.com/politics/dcs-mayor-fenty-falls-from-public-favor.php, currently trailing in polls to challenger councilman Vince Gray, has ripped a page out of Barry’s playbook this summer.

“I know when i saw Fenty using go-go musicians it felt like deja-vu once again,” says Kip Lornell a George Washington University musicology professor and author of The Beat: Go-Go’s Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop. “I was thinking back to the 1980s in fact the late 1970s when Marion Barry was using go-go musicians for local bring out the vote rallies,” he continues.

Washington community activist Ronald Moten knows the power go-go has to to get out the vote. He is organizing shows in the city and getting artists to make songs on Fenty’s behalf, but he says go-go is much deeper than the music.

“When DC, or parts of DC, were not thriving, the music was something that kept the economic development and kept money in peoples’ pockets, and kept revenue generating from the stores, the clubs, etc. And it’s just our way of life in DC so, it’s just a thriving beat, a percussion, an infusion that just drives people, that just brings people together,” states Moten.

Fenty openly admits that reaching out to the go-go community is a new strategy for him. “I haven’t always used go-go bands as part of our campaign outreach – that’s just a fact, but it’s a little bit different. This is a campaign where there’s a lot of contests throughout the city, so members of the go-go community wanted to come out and express their support for what we’ve been able to do,” says the candidate

Vince Gray, on the other hand, has been critical of Fenty’s effort, suggesting it’s a narrow approach and doesn’t address the most fundamental needs of the young people who are attracted to the beat.

“We have our own way of reaching young people, they’re an important part of the electorate, but we’ve also taken the time not only to see that they’re entertained – we’ve taken the time to see that they have some investments made in their future,” says Gray.

Tuesday’s primary will tell whether Fenty’s go-go effort pays off, and helps him drum up enough votes, or if Gray is able to keep his lead and beat the mayor at the ballot box.

Produced by Aaron Wright