Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Monday, August 04, 2008


Any astute observer on the highways has probably seen D.C.'s provocative license plate, harkening back to Revolutionary-era complaints. It's true -- residents of the District pay federal income taxes, but their lone congressional representative cannot vote on legislation. It's long been a thorny issue, with the most recent best effort shot down just over a year ago.

The latest effort by the main advocacy group for District voting rights, DC Vote, definitely caught my ears. They enlisted a local gospel/R&B singer, Joe L. Da Vessel, to cut a go-go track on the topic.

Joe L. Da Vessel - Demand the Vote

Go-go is, of course, D.C. music to the core, but on a matter like voting rights, the precise boundaries of the city matter. Da Vessel, for example, gives an address on his website of Fort Washington, Maryland -- just across the line in Prince George's County (frequently touted as the most affluent black-majority county in the country). If that's where he lives, then he's got a voice (assuming he votes).

P.G. County is home to plenty of folks with roots in the District, dating back to a black middle-class exodus in the '60s and '70s. Wale, who I profiled from Rock the Bells, grew up in the District and moved out to Largo, MD as a teenager. Go-go's got a stronghold out there too, as an old online list of go-go clubs or the Take Me Out to the Go-Go message board can attest to. Addresses in NE and SE D.C. may still dominate, but there are plenty of Oxon Hill, Capitol Heights, Fort Washington, and Marlow Heights addresses too. The District's city line is definitely permeable, but I suspect go-go is going to move more in the county direction, as inner-ring suburbs become increasingly popular to residents squeezed out of cities by higher prices (or the dreaded 'G' word). The Anacostia River, a psycho-geographical barrier between affluent, cosmopolitan D.C. and everything else (aka black & poor) is even being crossed with some condo development in the historic Anacostia neighborhood. I glanced at some insipid condo newspaper full of marketing doublespeak on the Metro the other day and a real estate agent projected Anacostia is the next big market. This was unthinkable 5 or 10 years ago and, as it goes with the up-valuing of a low-income neighborhood, not something anyone can rightfully decry if they don't live there, but still something to watch -- change takes many forms, not always the ideal ones.

Back to the county, there is another dividing line in the Capital Beltway. As residents chime in on a City-Data thread about P.G. County, the inner-ring is aptly cordonned off the Beltway, the major highway enforcing its own kind of ghettoization. Meanwhile, go-go fans are getting squeezed on both sides as officials see club closures the solution to violence at go-gos in both P.G. County and the District. In an even further afield case, the suburban sprawl that has pushed black residents out of P.G. and into neighboring Charles County has seen police harassment bordering on racial profiling at a go-go night. Just as far from the District both geographically and culturally, I heard that Saturday night's show at Merriweather, where I saw Rock the Bells last weekend and where go-go pioneer and legend Chuck Brown was the undercard, went without incident.

All urban/suburban music, culture, race, and nightlife politics that are far more complicated than the fairly straightforward call for voting rights (it's a shame that Congress can't see how simple it is). On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that DC Vote shot a music video for the song. I'll scout it on VoteTube when it arrives.

"Now I know this is delicate / But I can go to war and all I can get is a shadow delegate?"

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