Music and the City?

Some cities, some towns, and some neighborhoods even, have a sound, a certain kind of music, that’s special to them. That sound gets wound up with the identity of that place. But what happens if the city, or part of the city, is at odds with this sound? What happens if the the music that moves some in the city is frowned upon by others, especially the powers that be? What happens when class, race, and street violence get thrown into the mix? Natalie Hopkinson’s piece on go-go in DC, “Go-go music is the soul of Washington, but it’s slipping away,” raises a lot of these issues:

Cities change all the time, but this is about more than mourning what’s gone. As go-go shifts to the margins in the District, we are losing something bigger. Go-go may be invisible to much of white Washington, but it’s as much a part of the city as the pillars and monuments of its federal face. […]

Now the place that created go-go is shoving it aside.

Hopkinson’s article tells of how the go-go music scene is not only facing generational and class pressures, but is also increasingly facing law enforcement pressure.  She notes that the DC police have touted their “go-go report,” which monitors where and when go-go concerts are taking place, as one factor in reducing violent crime in the city.

Go-go may once have played a starring role in the revitalization of some of DC’s neighborhoods, but now it’s being pushed aside. That could be part of the natural change in musical tastes from generation to generation. But Hopkinson notes it could also be the result of who is getting to make the key decisions about the kind of development and the kind of music scene the city might have. What kind of nightlife, what kind of music scene does a city want? Whose music scene? Whose nightlife? For Hopkinson, rather than pushing go-go aside,

The city needs to be throwing out an oxygen mask. Without go-go, Washington loses part of its soul and continues its steady march toward becoming richer, whiter — less funktified.

–Jeff Prudhomme

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