The dispute quickly became about more than decibels; it was seen by many as a symbol for the decades-long displacement of black residents by wealthier whites and developers. The #DontMuteDC movement that coalesced in response eventually prevailed when the chief executive of T-Mobile, who lives in New York, tweeted that the music should go on.
Since then, #DontMuteDC has continued to assert itself, including in the form of a bill introduced in June by council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) that would make go-go the official music of the District. There was a hearing on it Oct. 30. “Hearing” was an especially good name for this event: Go-go artists and city activists testified about what go-go means to them, and to everybody, and then Black Passion Band performed.
The bill doesn’t mention anything about establishing a go-go song as an official D.C. anthem — but to me, that seems like the next logical step. So not long after the bill was introduced, I embarked on a quest to garner nominations. At the Metro PCS store, a young man who gives his name as Lu likes the idea of making go-go official. I ask him what he thinks D.C.’s official go-go anthem should be. “ ‘Sexy Lady,’ ” he says, “by the band UCB.” I wait to see if he’s joking. He betrays nothing.
People tend to like sexy ladies, as a concept. But, I ask Lu, for official city events, before graduations and such? Lu offers an alternative: “Welcome to DC,” by Mambo Sauce. “Welcome to DC,” which was the official song of the Washington Wizards for years, has a video featuring the band fleeing police. “Even the mayor had a run-in with crack,” the lyrics say. “But we all kept it real and we voted him back.” (Lu’s top pick remains “Sexy Lady.”)
His answers raise a sticking point in uniting go-go with officialdom: Go-go has a bit of a problem with authority. Or at least, authority has historically had a problem with go-go. Howard University professor Natalie Hopkinson, author of “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City” and a leader of #DontMuteDC, has argued that curfew laws in the ’90s targeted youth only when they were going to a go-go concert; liquor licenses were revoked because of what people did after they left go-go clubs; and police kept tabs on go-go musicians, assuming criminality would follow them, too.
And then there’s the city’s history with official songs, which dates to the turn of the 20th century. There have been multiple attempts at creating one, including a 1951 contest that was hugely successful — except in the category of producing a song anybody wanted to hear again. The winner, written by Jimmie Dodd, who later appeared on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” features such lyrics as, “Oh, the cherry blossoms bring a lot of joy each spring.” (Lori Wysong has recounted the whole saga on WETA’s Boundary Stones blog.)
So this is the issue for go-go and the city: Go too official, and you get a future Mouseketeer chirping about Abe Lincoln; go too go-go and the D.C. Council will be handing out lyric sheets to “Loose Booty” by the Junkyard Band.
Fortunately, go-go has its own authorities. Tone P, a hip-hop artist and one of the leaders of #DontMuteDC, says go-go can get something out of being the music of the establishment: “It would be official on tourist fliers. It can be in the schools, where the history and the culture would be part of the curriculum. We’d have an official song that could officially be part of the D.C. culture.” Like Lu, he also suggests “Welcome to DC,” because it unites different dynamics of the city. “Anthems are not deep,” he says. “It’s something for the people — it’s a spirited song, rather than a lot of content. A lot of content takes the spirit out of it.”
Nico Hobson, a.k.a. “The GoGo-Ologist,” who founded the station GoGo Radio Live and collects and studies the genre, has a complicated suggestion: “One on One,” by Rare Essence. It’s on the album “Live at the Breeze’s Metro Club.” Its lyrics are calibrated for the audience at the old Northeast Washington club but could be adapted to fit different events. And you can hear the influence of a lot of other go-go songs in its instrumentation. “It’s the heartbeat of the city, that groove,” Hobson says.
As for city officials: McDuffie says it’s hard to choose just one song. There are “so many bands from Junkyard to Backyard to newer bands like TCB,” he says. His politic alternative? Invite all those bands to create an official tune, “We Are the World”-style.
Specifics aside, there does seem to be interest in establishing a go-go anthem for D.C. After all, not every city has its own style of music, and Washingtonians have had to struggle against authority for every bit of self-governance they have — and they’re not done yet. Go-go, at least in this moment, perfectly embodies that sentiment. So, while the optimal lyrics may be a matter of debate, one thing is tough to dispute: D.C.’s official song should have some beat.
Rachel Manteuffel is a Washington Post editorial aide.