Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City

Natalie Hopkinson. Duke Univ., $22.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-8223-5211-2
Go-go music and its performers (Chuck Brown, Big G, Anthony “Little Benny” Harley) may have little cachet among a general audience, but Hopkinson, journalist and devotee, makes a persuasive case that “go-go serves as a metaphor for the black urban experience in the second half of the twentieth century.” Most deeply rooted in Washington, D.C., the heavily percussive, call-and-response dance music reflects the links between West Africa and the black diaspora, even as its content is centered on contemporary themes. As Hopkinson traces the music’s trajectory—particularly the rise and demise of Club U (by day a municipal center, by night a dance club) and of the curatorial entrepreneur Nico Holson—she delineates the divisions between “white federal Washington and black local D.C.” epitomized by the destruction of the once vibrant local go-go economy along the U Street, N.W., and H Street, N.E., corridors. Part history of, part elegy for, “the displacement of black communities and a slow death of the Chocolate City,” the text is supplemented by a rich photo insert documenting both dance floor and street. Across the world and throughout history, Hopkinson says, “black music has been the primary medium to deliver news.” Her assessment of a local phenomenon offers a glimpse of a culture off the mainstream’s radar. 34 b&w illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/23/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
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