Go-go grows from African roots

From 1619 until 1801, the Atlantic slave trade made cargo out of millions of Africans.

But heritage didn’t drown in the Atlantic Ocean. The stench of death couldn’t suffocate culture. Go-go music is just one byproduct from the evolution of African culture

When Africans were brought to United States they blended their traditions with European music to create what is now African-American culture.

“Even though they took us out of Africa, there were certain things they couldn’t take out of us,” said Lindsey Sarjeant, director of jazz studies and commercial music. One of those things was a tradition of dance.

“Dancing has always been a part of our African heritage,” he said. “Even now, it’s in every aspect of African life.”

Sarjeant said the role of the percussion in African music, combined with the need to dance, was passed down from generation to generation.

And now in the 21st century the beat, like the tradition, goes on. African music has evolved into forms including jazz, blues, funk and hip-hop.

“Go-go, hip hop and R&B all have the same ingredients,” he said. “What separates go-go is the delicate balance between drum and bass and the limited melodic contour.”

A form of music native to Washington, D.C., go-go got going in the late 1970s. It started as a creation of musician Chuck Brown, aptly titled “The Godfather Go-Go.”

More than 20 years later go-go is a cornerstone of Washington culture and its influence has spread throughout R&B and hip hop. Now, go-go has come to the Hill.

Ten Washington area Rattlers make up Organized Confusion, a go-go band created last semester.

“We needed something to occupy our time,” said Mike Jackson, 19, a sophomore business student from Fort Washington, Md. “All of us had the talent and the same ideas, but there was no form.”

Jackson is the band’s keyboard player and provides most of the melodies. He said he enjoys go-go because it is “unique music.”

“There’s a lot of rhythmic instruments,” he said. “You can hear a lot of

similarities to African music. It’s derived from jazz, and that’s from Africa.”

Jackson said there are several things to listen to in go-go, and each time he listens to it, he picks out something different.

However, underneath the complex musical elements lies simplicity.

“Go-go rhythms are simple,” said percussionist Danzell Bussey, 19, a sophomore broadcast journalism student from Washington. “You could be the worst drum player in the world and still know that go-go beat.”

That beat is what links D.C. go-go to deep-rooted African traditions. Sarjeant said polyrhythms are a main characteristic of African music and that trait can especially be found in the Uruba tribe of West Africa.

Go-go’s identifying feature is its layered percussion, featuring a blend of snare and bass drums, timbales, congas and rototoms

“In go-go, there’s more percussion,” Bussey said. “It almost sounds like chaos if you don’t know what you’re listening to.”

He said that go-go bands have different types of drum breaks or “breakdowns” and that can be directly linked to Africa.

“It corresponds,” he said “Just like each tribe has a different beat that represents where they’re from.”

The band performs regularly and its next performance is scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Cove Cafe.