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Go-Go Exhibition Cut Short

Ceiling Collapses, Eight Injured at D.C. Arts & Humanities Exhibit

Sam P.K. Collins | 8/21/2013, 3 p.m.
The Black Alley Band rocks the house during "Go-Go Swing: Washington, D.C.'s Unstoppable Beat" multimedia arts exhibit at the 200 I Street Gallery in Southeast on Friday, Aug. 16. Photo by Roy Lewis

Hundreds of go-go fans were recently grooving to the sounds of the Black Alley Band at the 200 I Street Gallery in Southeast — when 15 minutes into the show — the booming sound of the bass failed to keep the crowd from hearing the crackling sounds of a ceiling on the verge of collapse.

Moments before the band could finish its set on Friday, Aug. 16, pieces of plaster fell close to the stage and on sound equipment, injuring eight people and causing the crowd of more than 300 people to panic and scatter.

Metropolitan Police Department officers immediately evacuated the gallery, located in a newly-developed District government building that also houses four local agencies, cutting short what was supposed to be an historic evening.

Despite the unforeseen incident, Omar Kashif, founding manager of the Black Alley Band, said he was thankful that the up-and-coming band had an opportunity to perform for a crowd that spanned several generations.

"I grew up with go-go [music], but never thought that we would be considered among the greats," said Kashif. "It gives the go-go aficionados a chance to hear us and recognize that we have heart."

The Black Alley Band and Rare Essence, known for their 1998 hit, "Overnight Scenario," were scheduled to play 30-minute sets during a red-carpet gala reception to celebrate the launch of "Go-Go Swing: Washington, D.C.'s Unstoppable Beat," a multimedia arts exhibit that honors go-go music pioneers and highlights the genre's African, Latin, jazz, and funk roots.

The gala, which was hosted by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH), took place days before what would have been the late go-go pioneer Chuck Brown's 77th birthday on Aug. 22.

"Go-go is our city's music and it has transformed the country," said Judith Terra, DCCAH chair, in brief remarks during the gala. "You will see how the exhibit honors the pioneers of the go-go genre and celebrates this art."

Go-go is a sub-genre of funk that became widely popular in the D.C. metropolitan area in the 1970s. Its name stems from the word given to local African-American clubs in the 1960s.

Although Brown is known as the "Godfather of Go-Go," the genre's origin could not be traced back to one person or group. Instruments typically used in go-go performances include drums, keyboards, timbales, and bass guitar, which when combined, create a laid-back, heavy bass rhythm that's the backdrop to an array of songs that play nonstop during a performance.

Go-go gained some national recognition with Experience Unlimited's1988 hit, "Da Butt," which was featured in Spike Lee's movie, "School Daze." But go-go never left the D.C. region, due in part to unsuccessful attempts by record executives to replicate the effects of live performances in recording studios.

Anwan "Big G" Glover, best known for his role as gang member Slim Charles in HBO's critically-acclaimed TV drama, "The Wire," attended the exhibition and reflected on go-go's place in the District's history.

"To see what we came from as a genre [warmed] my heart and swept me off my feet," said Glover, 35. "It's good to see our city honoring the music that our pioneers worked so hard to create. We won't let go-go die. We have nothing else but go-go," said Glover, who lives in Columbia Heights in Northwest.

Guests donned all-white outfits and spent much of the evening looking at photographs of prominent figures, places and events in go-go history, as well as listening to recordings of popular songs while feasting on hors d'œuvres.

Items on display included one of Brown's Gibson guitars, a collection of cassette tapes from PA Palace, the Temple Hills, Md.-based retailer that was the first to distribute go-go music, and a vintage Rare Essence poster that was suspended over the speaker's podium.

Victoria Hamilton, an admissions representative at the Newseum in Northwest and aspiring curator, said she appreciated the District's effort to preserve what she considered a unique art form.

"There are factors that are threatening the survival of these vestiges of cultural authenticity that make D.C. unique," said Hamilton, 28. "[Go-go music] is something the city wants to [preserve] as much as [possible]. This is the way to [leave a mark]," said the Northwest resident.

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