Go-Go Live: Washington, D.C.'s Cultural Information Network, Drumming the News, Knitting Communities, and Guarding a Black Public Sphere
Hopkinson, Natalie Adele
Newhagen, John E.
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Through the frame of Habermas's theory of the public sphere, this study argues that go-go, Washington, D.C.'s funk-based live music genre, functions as a unique public sphere in the majority-black United States capital city also known as the "Chocolate City." Go-go is a powerful counter-discourse to hip-hop, another urban culture with origins in the 1970s post-industrial American landscape. Both hip-hop and go-go originally functioned as a news and cultural medium for geographically-specific African American communities, or what rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy described as a "black CNN." While hip-hop moved into the global mainstream of popular culture, the go-go community guarded the borders of its sphere from encroachment, commercialization, and cooptation from political, cultural, and economic forces. Live concerts employ centuries-old rituals, scripts, and codes in dance, music and clothing to deliver the news in a call-and-response with African-derived traditions. The study of go-go provides insights useful to both the music and news media industries under assault by the decentralization and democratization of production and fragmentation of audiences. This study demonstrates how through a network of roving independent entrepreneurs and storefront businesses, go-go has protected the sanctity of this sphere and continues to build community across several decades and a variety of media platforms. This study combines ethnography, life history research, ethnomusicology, and cultural geography to "read" the news go-go tells, stories, communities and people overlooked or misunderstood by corporate news media.