This article was originally published October 5, 1984.
Funky Sounds 'Bustin' Loose' In the District
A battered, white step-truck rattled to a stop near the corner of Fourth Street and Martin Luthur King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington. For a moment it sat quietly in the noon sun as newly fallen leaves crackled in their race with a breeze.
Then, suddenly there was a rude blast of sound:
"Get your back up off the wall, dance, come on!" a recorded voice shouted in a syncopated rhythm that bolted from a storm of multi-percussion beats, synthesized beeps, explosions and quick-jabbing R&B horn lines.
The music blared from tinny speakers, blanketing the area's littered streets, its neat and not-so-neat little houses and storefront businesses. In the process, hundreds of students from nearby Ballou Senior High School were drawn to the step-truck that sells cookies, sodas and ice-cream from a window behind bars. Some danced, doing the "Happy Feet," to the beat. Many just nodded in time as they munched on 45-cent chili dogs and sipped soda."Michael Jackson is all right, but this is the best," said Marcus Johnson, 16, who was within earshot of a parked car that, too, was loud with the same type of music pouring from its cassette tape deck: "I feel like bustin' loose, bustin' loose . . . "
The music seems to be everywhere: sang, played and carried in oversized, shoulder-mounted tape players and radios in every quadrant of the nation's capital. The music, with its broken melody lines and chants urging one to "rock your butt, y'all," can be heard at metro stops, city parks and playgrounds where school girls jump rope to its beat.
It's "go-go" music, and it is the District's own -- rough, aggressive, urban and black.
With its loud funky bass lines and harsh harmonies, this music sketches a portrait of the District's black community in which the seeing is in the ears. Much like reggae, a music born of the Caribbean ghettos, the D.C. sound has become a sociology that rocks, its creators say.
"Our sound is very vicious, cocky," said Robert Reed, the 27-year-old singer and keyboard player for "Trouble Funk," one of the most successful of the "go-go" groups. "It's driving, and demands that you be part of it."
Home-grown combos such as Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited, Trouble Funk, Reds and the Boys, the Pump Blenders, and Hot, Cold Sweat, and Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers have recently been enjoying unprecedented popularity.
For years, the D.C. sound has been heard in heaping audible doses in local nightclubs, rented halls and in Landover's mammoth Capital Centre. Even the District Police Department Side-by-Side Band, a youth-oriented combo, plays "OO La La," a go-go song.
But now, say the go-go promoters, the music is ready to woo national and international audiences much like Motown and the sound of Philadelphia did in decades past. Trouble Funk is preparing for a six-week tour of Europe next month and is also exploring offers to take its live act to West Africa, according to its management.
Chuck Brown just grins, flashing a glint of gold that frames one of his chalk-white front teeth, when he hears that go-go music is really on the go, this time. The 49-year-old ex-boxer, ex-bricklayer and ex-convict is credited with being the godfather of the D.C. sound.