Speaker: This is the takeaway from WNYC and PRX in collaboration with WGBH Radio in Boston.
Melissa Harris Perry: Hi everybody. I'm Melissa Harris Perry, and it's good to be rocking with you today. Now come with me to Washington DC.
To a corner in a historically Black neighborhood in DC, just a few blocks away from Howard University. There you'll find a MetroPCS phone store, you'll know you're in the right place when you hear the go-go music bumping.
Now the store sits on the corner of Chuck Brown Way, which is named after the godfather of go-go himself, Chuck Brown.
This is gentrification is a defining feature of the Shaw neighborhood, which is likely why in 2019, a resident in a luxury apartment building across the street from this Metro PCS store made a noise complaint. The resident allegedly threatened to sue the owner of MetroPCS, which is T-Mobile. The Go-go was turned off, but the community turned up. The don't mute DC Movement was born. Here's Tony Lewis, a community organizers speaking to the Washington post during a pro go-go protest.
Tony Lewis: We all got to work together to ensure that this city can't be as great itself without the DC native, without go-go music, without mumbo sauce. Without communities that have helped establish what this city is.
Melissa Harris Perry: Here with me now is Natalie Hopkinson associate professor of communication culture and media studies at Howard University and co-founder of Don't Mute DC Movement. Welcome to the show, Natalie.
Natalie Hopkinson: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris Perry: Can you tell us a little bit about what go-go means for that corner in DC?
Natalie Hopkinson: That corner is the most magical wonderful place in all of DC, because that is the place where outside the store, that go-go is playing from10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. If you're driving by that corner, you might hear ambulance sirens, because the hospital is across the street, but you'll also hear the music and you'll see people doing impromptu street parties. There's lots of dancing, lots of people having a wonderful time. Why someone would want to turn down that wonderful time, I have no idea.
Melissa Harris Perry: Well, what do you think about why someone would want to turn down the go-go?
Natalie Hopkinson: I think that they don't understand, when you hear it, the way I liken it is to being on one side of a cell phone conversation. You're just hearing one side of what's going on. In the go-go you're-- Actually it's a communal call and response concert. It's live music, the audience is talking back to the people on the mic and they're participating. They're part of the band, they're participating in it. The recordings that you hear is really just a recording of it, it's not the actual thing.
A lot of the people who you see stopping to dance, they know what the real thing is and so they can appreciate it. Those people who don't know what it is, and there's thousands of Howard university students who are not from DC and didn't grow up in the tradition. Somehow we've gone 25 years without them trying to turn off the music. A lot of the students that come in will ask a question, "Oh, what is that?" Somebody will tell them, "Oh, that's go-go music." They'll learn about all this incredible history and what this whole-- How it speaks to Black identity in Washington.
Melissa Harris Perry: Share with us a little bit of that history. Where does go-go come from?
Natalie Hopkinson: As you mentioned, Chuck Brown is the creator of go-go. He created it in the 1970s. It's a cousin of hip hop, very much funk bass. There's a lot of Afro-Latin rhythms which he's picked up playing with a band called Los Latinos. It's very much Black diaspora music. If you hear it, you could be anywhere you could be in Lagos, you could be in Kingston, you could be in Washington DC. It's wonderful Black diaspora music. This is extremely pervasive for Black Washington.
The fact that white people of most stripes, whether they're new or old, many still today don't know what go-go is and that really speaks to how segregated our city has been historically. Of course with gentrification that's changing. Communities that didn't interact before are interacting and you get these culture clashes like we saw at that store.
Melissa Harris Perry: Let's say a little bit more about that. Because as I was reading about all of this happening, it occurred to me that it connects to this long story that even historian Robin DG Kelley gives us about Black folks retaking public space that they're losing in terms of housing, in terms of businesses. They retake it in terms of sonically, they retake it culturally. I'm wondering about how Black DC, once Chocolate City is feeling about these demographic shifts and gentrifications.
Natalie Hopkinson: One of the great things about the Don't Mute DC movement is that I think there's been this narrative for a long time that Chocolate City is dead. Those Black days are over as my mother-in-law-- My mother-in-law said that about New Orleans, "Those Black days are over." What the movement showed is that it is possible to reclaim, and to hold your ground and say, we are not going to be pushed away. A lot of people often told me, like all the things that people could take to the streets and people did take to the streets, as you heard of that clip with Tony Lewis. Thousands of people took to the streets to defend this corner and to defend go-go music.
People said, well, "Why would people do this for music? Why not march for jobs and healthcare?" What I always tell people is that it is jobs and healthcare. Go-go music is intertwined with all parts of Black DC, it's intertwined with all of that. To see this being able to push back against very powerful people, very powerful corporation that were wanting to silence Black culture and Black people, it gives people a lot of hope.
Melissa Harris Perry: Natalie Hopkinson is associate professor of communication, culture and media studies at Howard University and co-founder of the Don't Mute DC movement. Natalie, thank you for joining us.
Natalie Hopkinson: Thank you.
[00:07:26] [END OF AUDIO]
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