‘The Beat’ felt around the World
By Paulette Simone, AFRO Staff Writer
Review appeared in the AFRO on October 22, 2009
It’s the congas drums, the base-line, timbale, and hand-held cow bell that make “the beat” and create the rhythm felt by “go-go” -a genre of music uniquely produced and distributed in Washington, DC.
Many outside of the District have not had the occasion to experience “go-go” first hand but, Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson have brought to life through their book, The Beat Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C., the craft which has roots in West African Cultures.
The Beat Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C., does well to expand the knowledge of Go-Go music lovers, and deepen the historical awareness of Black music connoisseurs. For the novice music appreciator this book takes them on a trip by way of words and images through the past, present, and future of go-go music.
History has taught us if there are no books written, pictures taken, or videos captured future generations will not have a clear understanding of the origins of many Black experiences. Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson have seen to it that the foundations of go-go music are not left untold. They have shared the sentiments of past storytellers burdened with the task of preserving the history of Black people.
Charles C. Stephenson, a political and cultural activist and the original manager of Experience Unlimited (EU) knows personally about the creations of go-go music. Having witnessed it evolve, as manager of one of go-go’s first bands, he rallied to tell its’ story. “I just know by and by that go-go is going to become an integral part of the American music scene, and I just thought that it was important that we document it,” Stephenson articulated. Lornell co-author of The Beat went on to say, “It is one of the few American regional music that was documented close enough to it’s beginning that you can talk to pretty much everybody who is really important and there from the start in the early mid 70’s. We could talk to the really important people.”
The Beat explores how go-go music has evolved over the years and it goes further to explain why, “in effect we go way back to the forty’s and we talk about Washington, DC and how it was segregated. And how for the most part socially in Washington, there were not many clubs for us [Black people],” explains Stephenson, “A lot of it was socially connected to what was going on in D.C. during those periods of time. It [go-go] didn’t just fall out of the sky,” he made clear.
Washington, D.C. serves as a backdrop for the book. And, although as Charles C. Stephenson noted, the true go-go experience, “is so localized…it is almost impossible to get a feel for it if you are not participating and in order to get a feel you must be in Washington, D.C.,” chapters in the book like, “Going to a Go-Go” provide the reader with a front row seat to one of go-go’s live performances.
Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson provide a tangible manual of the experience of go-go through their book, The Beat Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. They’ve managed to illuminate and educate readers outside of Washington, D.C on the expressive culture of Black music found in go-go -an art form so rooted in the history of Black people. Hopefully this genre will not be unfamiliar to those outside of its’ origins for long.