The first time I heard of Ras Lidj was in 1998 when he was featured in one of the first printed editions of Take Me Out to the Go-Go Magazine. I couldn’t pronounce his name, and I barely skimmed the article because I couldn’t fathom the musical marriage he was proposing: reggae and go-go.
The Go-Go Finishing School to which I had been recently admitted as a TMOTT staffer included lessons given at Mark Ward’s or my mom’s dining room table, or in Kato Hammond’s living room when Mark and I could get to Way Out, Virginia. I had been going to go-gos for almost 10 years by the time I was provided higher education in how to properly appreciate drumming by Footz, singing by Mike Muse, or the stage magic of Jas. Funk and Little Benny via old Rare Essence PA tapes and a funk geekery kinship with Kato and Mark. “Chuck laid the foundation… but Rare Essence built the house,” Kato said.
The only people I knew who were into reggae were also heavy into hip hop, but more hip hop because they were emcees, DJs, and producers. In 1998, seeing Ras Lidj and his reggae/go-go mix on a TMOTTGoGo cover was something I accepted as far enough over my head that I didn’t have to understand. I figured I’d get to that level of math further along in my education.
In 2012, the year of anticipated upheaval, the universe brought together a few special circumstances that allowed me to get a proper Ras Lidj regg’go style schooling. Saturday, June 30, 2012 was the date I chose to “release” my dreadlocks, and I needed a Friday night party for which my friends could join me to say goodbye to them. It just so happened that Friday, June 29th was the start of a new happy hour series at Mood Lounge on 9th St, NW, featuring Ras Lidj & Deep Band. Perfect timing.
Regg’go turned out to be something that I needed to see and hear in person to even begin to comprehend. Funny, because people often say that about go-go when explaining the audial disconnect to people who aren’t used to the sound. With Deep Band’s fusion of the go-go I love with the reggae I liked as a friend, the connection was instantaneous, real, and deeply rooted. One of my partying pals was an early TMOTT writer known as Highly Ed, and I tripped out when this very critical go-go head got syced when Deep Band vocalist Mia Harmoni Black started singing “Love Me Do”.
Shortly thereafter, something magical happened. If you remember, the night of June 29, 2012 brought a destructive storm through the DC area. But about two hours before the storm rolled through, the power went out in the block where Mood Lounge was located, supposedly because a driver hit an electrical pole. Deep Band took a pause to properly assess the situation, then proceeded to show us the way. Lights out in the club, no electricity, yet the power was ON. The musicians used the soul power of percussion and straight cranked–in the dark, laughing, dancing, and gettin’ down. We did eventually have to leave the club, but not before gaining a truly important lesson in love and go-go. Seeing Deep Band turn on their own power to be a light for their audience didn’t just get me through the rest of that weekend in which most of us in DC, Maryland, and Virginia were without electricity; it continues to bring me through situations in which some storm takes away the power, leaving me to find The Light within myself.
Ras Lidj is still harnessing powerful forces of love and rhythm (and riddim) as he pushes forward through that balancing act that many artists know so well, when you gotta do what you have to do to keep the upper hand in the fight to do what you love to do. Before Deep Band‘s most recent show on March 6th at Tropicalia on U Street with Faycez U Know, Ras Lidj was hitting the streets, social media, and the inboxes of some friends, armed with SoundCloud music and CDs, getting feedback on his previous Tropicalia show from August 2013.
What I got from Deep Band‘s performance at the March 6th show was good information: a history lesson on Ras Lidj’s original music plus a wishlist for what I’d like to see at the next Ras Lidj & Deep Band show. I dig the courageous heart behind his original “Son Of A One Night Stand”, which made me catch myself wanting to stand still and listen instead of dancing. I like the difference I heard in “Keep It District”, especially the way song allowed the musicians to become teachers of their regg’go sound. I’ve learned about the “sound man” issue from my TMOTT teachers (including the old message board nerds), but the March 6th Tropicalia show really brought it to my attention. So, on my wishlist for the next Ras Lidj & Deep Band show is a sound man who knows what the band needs and can deliver it. Next on my list is MORE MIA!! Her instrument works well with the band, and even in the CD from the first Tropicalia show, I wanted to hear her better and more often. Having said that, I want more of the band. My past go-go tutelage put me more into valuing the music than the vocals. This might require a careful calculation by Ras Lidj for when to casually step back and just let regg’go be the star that it is and when to lend the “sweet” of his voice versus the “rough”.
I appreciate the community leadership Ras Lidj is showing by promoting peace among his brothers and opening the channels of communication with his colleagues about his music. That’s no easy feat in the DC music scene, and the bringing together of go-go and reggae is itself an ambassadorial act. When it comes to regg’go, which I once thought was over my head, I will continue to take the advice of George Duke and ‘reach for it’ (the title of a record that he conceptualized in DC, that hit in DC before anywhere else).
Come see what’s happening for yourself, and meet me at the next Deep Band show so we can talk more about regg’go. It’s A.R.T. of Go-Go, indeed.