Saturday Night Music, November 26, 2011: Experience Unlimited (EU), “Da Butt,” from Spike Lee’s “School Daze,” 1988

I’ve got to get to work in a few hours, but I thought I would submit this 23-year-old hit from Spike’s School Daze.  Blame my piece on The Roots earlier this week making me remember.  I found School Daze to be painful when it was released, but there were some good, eye-opening moments in it.  Occasionally, some high school or college marching band—predominantly black and/or Latino—will include it in their repertoire (Tuskegee, Florida A & M, Kentucky State) and of course, it’s a dance party as well as a frat party favorite.

I doubt whether the rumpshaking on these videos predated the more rank and egregious social faux pas being committed to amateur and professional videos up to now.  School Daze wasn’t the first to feature it, either.  Compared to many others, this is tame.

Remember how young we still were back in the day?  Even little guy Spike.  Above is the official video.

And here is the context in which it was used, at the Gamma Phi Gamma frat party.  Sorry, but no one has copied a better excerpt.  I love this scene because it’s the moment when Bill Nunn‘s Grady finally meets the woman of his dreams–as big and as tall as he is.  The sweetness of their loving and coupling provides an interesting counterpart to the dehumanizing train run on light- and bright-skinned Jane Toussaint by the entire Gamma fraternity.

Soundwise, this may be a better recording immediately above.

In the lyrics, EU makes a reference to “the go-go beat.”  Go-go was/is a music movement known only to Washington D.C.-area music lovers.

Go-go is a subgenre associated with funk that originated in the Washington, D.C., area during the mid- 1960s to late-1970s. It remains primarily popular in the area as a uniquely regional music style. A great number of bands contributed to the early evolution of the genre, but The Young Senators, Black Heat, and notably singer-guitarist Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers are credited with having developed most of the hallmarks of the style.

Inspired by artists such as the groups formerly mentioned and Chuck Brown, Go-go is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and early hip-hop, with a focus on lo-fi percussion instruments and funk-style jamming in place of dance tracks, although some sampling is used. As such, it is primarily a dance hall music with an emphasis on live audience call and response. Go-go rhythms are also incorporated into street percussion.

In technical terms, “Go-go’s essential beat is characterized by a syncopated, dotted rhythm that consists of a series of quarter and eighth notes (quarter, eighth, quarter, (space/held briefly), quarter, eighth, quarter)… which is underscored most dramatically by the bass drum and snare drum, and the hi-hat… [and] is ornamented by the other percussion instruments, especially by the conga drums, timbales, and hand-held cowbells.”

Unique to Go-Go is an instrumentation with 3 standard Congas and 2 “Junior Congas”, 8″ and 9″ wide and about half as tall as the standard Congas, a size rare outside of Go-Go. They were introduced to Rare Essence by Tyrone Williams -aka- Jungle Boogie in the early days when they couldn’t afford enough full sized Congas, and are ubiquitous ever since.[3] A swing rhythm is often implied (if not explicitly stated).

Another important attribute in go-go is call-and-response vocals with the crowd in concert.

There is generally little familiarity with go-go music outside of the D.C. Metro area, which includes the District of Columbia and the city’s outlying Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs. Consequently, the relatively little commercial success (by industry standards) go-go bands have enjoyed has largely been a product of the genre’s following in this geographic region. Nevertheless, the style continues to evolve.

EU is still around.  Gregory “Sugar Bear” Eliot remains the lead singer along with at least  two others, but the rest of the personnel have  moved on and been replaced over the years.  An excerpt from a 2001 Washington Post article states that the group has reformed and experienced several “second winds” even under different names:

Sugar Bear played a key role in the revival. After EU had toured as much as it could off the success of “Da Butt,” Sugar Bear says, he “wasn’t even trying to come out to play the live scene no more.” But in the spring of ’97, his old EU drummer, William “JuJu” House, asked him to fill in for an absent bass player in a local ’70s revival act called Maiesha & the Hiphuggers. When people in the audience saw him, recalls Sugar Bear, “they gave me love and ‘wind me up, Bear,’ and all that. So I did all the old songs for them, and they went crazy.

“Word got out that Bear is playing old-school stuff with Maiesha, and the crowd started swelling. We went from one night a week at Bailey’s in Silver Spring to doing three nights a week at different clubs, then we were playing seven nights and nine shows a week. The band was doing the ’70s and ’80s music, and the last hour was strictly go-go. I did all my old stuff: ‘Shake It Like a White Girl,’ ‘Da Butt’ . . . all my go-go chants. It just blew up.”

Maiesha isn’t performing now — she’s recuperating from an illness — but the Hiphuggers are still together. “Now to this day, everybody is doing what I did,” says Bear. “I feel really good that I opened up doors and brought live entertainment back for the bands of Washington, D.C.”

There are some live videos of EU in concert.  Hope the group is playing somewhere some time close to you in the future.  Eliot doesn’t mind having only one big national hit.  Rather that than never having a hit at all.

~ by blksista on November 26, 2011.

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