No Congas, No Go-Go

Saturday - January 12th, 2013

Photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis

 

Every year for Howard University’s Homecoming, my husband and I open our home not far from the school’s Washington D.C. campus to our fellow alumni from all over the country for food, drink and fellowship until the wee hours. Last homecoming, in honor of the publication of my book Go-Go Live, our friend, Dan Cooper, decided to up the ante. He hired a go-go band to play.

I was skeptical they would fit in the front parlor of our skinny row house. But alas, the band squeezed in amplifiers and equipment, and cranked out some funked-up covers of popular hip-hop and R &B and a few classic go-go hits. Random neighbors, friends, even my kid’s teacher stopped by impressed. It was the stuff of Homecoming legend.

But one person was not moved. “Where’s the conga player?” Nico Hobson asked, throwing his hands in the air. Also known as Nico the Gogoologist, he is a collector, trader and historian of go-go, and co-manages www.gogoradio.com. Nico is like a brother to me and was also the subject “The Archive” chapter of my book.

Turns out the conga part of the music was played by, *winces* , a drum kit. This nuance would not be appreciated by most of the Howard alumni–very few of whom were D.C. natives. Add that to the pile of moments when it becomes clear I’m not a native, lifelong go-go fan.

Congas are the heartbeat of go-go. It is the signature instrument that makes it go-go. No congas, no go-go.  The foundational, uncompromising role of the congas are also undisputed proof that go-go may be the blackest music on the planet.  I daresay blacker even than its cousin juju in Nigeria. Oh, I love it so!

As the poet/photographer Thomas Sayers Ellis has written his quirky “Crank Shaped Notes” series, #170:

“The conga is king. The player is servant. A heard hand is a visible hand, palms bouncing off of planets, universal. Crank is freedom, the feet of locked elements freed from local gravity…When we bend time with our bodies of sound, the pocket-community travels at the speed of percussive searching, faster than the fame of all artificial light, and further than national.”

And that’s why it is so significant that on January 13, 2013, for the first time, a “King of the Congas” will be crowned. Dozens of conga players from the hottest bands around Washington will be competing for the crown and $2,000.

Check out Nico’s interview with Tony Perkins of Fox 5 in advance of the big event. I can’t wait!
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