I first encountered Go-Go music while visiting family in the DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia region) in the 80’s and 90’s. However, I didn’t have a true understanding of its syncopated beats and call and response vibe until I moved to the area in the late 90’s. A new position, a new career, and learning to navigate an unashamedly Black major city for the first time is an experience I still treasure having grown up in a medium-sized midwestern city. On a regular Friday night, I would listen to WKYS and WPGC and enjoy the R&B mix that switched up to straight Go-Go. Next thing I knew, I would be bouncing to the beat at DC’s legendary 9:30 Club watching the “Godfather of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown, belt out such classics as “Run Joe,” “Blow the Whistle,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”
Though Go-Go rhythms could put you in a trance through the radio, there was nothing like listening to it live. As a matter of fact, Go-Go is best experienced live – the body to body contact of the crowd swaying and bouncing as one unit feels like being in a sea of blackness and being directly connected to the band or more importantly to the drum. And Go-Go, indigenous music native to DC that originated in the 60’s and 70’s, is arguably all about those drums. A sub-genre of funk music, it utilizes Conga drums and other African percussion instruments to add a distinctive “bop-bop” to the music that speaks to its listeners.
Like the city of D.C and the people who breathe life into the music, Go-Go has also stood firm even through the city’s changing face. In an interview with The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow, Diallo Sumbry, CEO of the Adinkra group, an African cultural resource company in D.C. whose mission is to connect people of African descent with the culture and traditions of Africa through the Arts and Education, says:
“When you think about the resilience of Gogo music and what it’s been through in a city like Washington D.C, that’s going through massive gentrification right now, you can see the resilience of the music itself. It is the same resilience that’s embodied in the DNA of African people who went through chattel slavery and hundreds and hundreds of years of degradation in an attempted genocide.”
In light of this resilience and in celebration of the DNA that binds Go-Go music to Africa, in August of 2018, Diallo Sumbry, founding member Anwan Glover, and members of DC’s legendary The Backyard Band embarked on a historic journey to Ghana to bring Go-Go music back to Africa.
The Backyard Band (BYB) is one of DC’s most prominent Go-Go bands and throughout their journey in Ghana, the band is scheduled to meet local musicians, visit schools and cultural centers, and play three concerts. “The most significant concert will be held at Cape Coast Castle. Cape Coast Castle is one of the most prominent slave trading forts intact remaining in West Africa. Cape Coast maintains an infamous Door of No Return, where it’s stated that once the enslaved Africans exited this doorway to enter the slave ships, they were doomed to never return to their homeland,” according to the information released by Sumbry, who is the Executive Producer of the project, entitled The Back2Africa Tour.
The Back2Africa Tour had been made possible through a full partnership between Sumbry’s company, The Adinkra Group, and the Ghana Tourism Authority The project is, not only, looking to bring a full Go-Go experience to Accra but to explore the band’s progression through Ghana. Over the course of their journey, band members will take an AfricanAncestry.com DNA test and their results, as well as, their insights on being in Ghana, visiting the Slave forts and castles, and playing their craft in the motherland, will be captured on film. The tour and subsequent documentary film, which is directed by Emmy and Grammy-nominated director, J. Kevin Swain, “represents a return home by descendants of Africa as powerful symbols of resilience and creativity.”
The impact of the band’s time in Ghana has yet to be seen, but the intensity of what they are setting out to conquer goes hard, just like D.C itself: “We’re going BACK2Africa thru the door of no return powered by self-determination on a mission to rewrite our history and chart a new course for the future through the power of music – Go-Go!”