One thing about art is that no matter how one tries to suppress it, it can never actually be diminished. Instead, what it does is reform, while at the same time, never losing its original essence. When I think of it like that, I reflect on the X-Men character Colossus. This is an individual who possess the power to transform into living organic metal form, granting superhuman strength and near-invulnerability… who can survive without oxygen or sustenance for long periods while in this form. Well… Music is art. And Go-Go is music.
On the evening of September 4, 2011, the go-go culture experienced its very first taste of enjoying their favorite style of music performed on a classical platform when the National Symphony Orchestra did something different and invited Chuck Brown to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capital. Symphonically, they ran through a string of his go-go favorites. The songs performed were “2001 (That’ll Work)”, “Harlem Nocturne”, and “Bustin Loose.” Later, the NSO added a pocket beat to their set, and that was when Chuck joined them for an arrangement of “Run Joe.”
The biggest thing that this event proved to us was that only is Go-Go recognized as an art form in the family of music, but it can be presented within many different cultures.
And that’s what brings us to this interview session right here. Today, we put the spotlight on a woman who not only decided to take that concept a step further, but is also no stranger herself to Go-Go music and its culture. Liza Figueroa Kravinsky is the founder of a musical ensemble who’s objective is to do just that. This musical ensemble that I speak of? The Go-Go Symphony.
TMOTT: Would you mind please telling us a little about yourself?
LIZA: I started out as a classical and pop composer in my teens and went to Oberlin College to study classical music composition. After I graduated from college in 1985, I went back to my home in Prince George’s County and started playing in R&B and go-go bands. In 1988, I toured as a keyboard player for Stacy Lattisaw. Then in 1990, after Michelle Peterson and others left Pleasure go-go band, I played keyboards for Pleasure for one summer. Then after Trouble Funk broke up briefly in 1990 or so, I played keyboards for “TRJ,” a band comprised of Trouble Funk members Taylor and Robert Reed, and James Avery. Eventually, Trouble Funk got back together again. In 1991, I flew to Paisley Park in Minneapolis to direct and play keyboards for a female band that Prince put together. The band was called “Robin Power and the Uptown Dames,” and it was supposed to open for his “Graffiti Bridge” movie tour. However, the movie flopped and we never toured or recorded. Then I started writing music for documentaries, commercials, and industrial video productions here in the DC area. I also became a video producer and documentary filmmaker. I am now more financially secure, so I decided to start this go-go symphony project.
TMOTT: Can you explain to me what exactly is the Go-Go Symphony, and what (if anything) makes it different from the average symphony orchestra?
The go-go symphony is a classical orchestra playing party music over Washington DC’s gogo beat. Ideally, it would be a full symphony orchestra you can dance to, complete with endless funky polyrhythm. More often, it will be a partial bare bones orchestra – brass, woodwinds, keyboard, guitar, and percussion — to get the ball rolling in clubs, parks, and festivals. This core group can then attach to larger established symphony orchestras for the full effect. It is different because it’s more like a go-go party than a snooty classical concert. You can find more information about us at gogosymphony.com
TMOTT: How did the conception of the idea come about? In other words, what sparked your interest into wanting to perform go-go music presentations?
LIZA: I first had the idea for a go-go symphony in 1990 when I was writing songs for Prince’s project. I figured he would appreciate something different, so I put a rock guitar and synthesized classical string music over a sampled go-go beat. He thought it was the strongest most exciting song in our set, so he made us open our show with it at his Glam Slam club. After that project folded, I returned to DC and spent more time trying to earn money, so I put that idea in the back burner. Now I’m more financially well established, so I feel like I can do this go-go symphony.
The reason I want to do this project is because I just think it’s a good idea. People always want to hear something new. In addition, classical music can use a little more life to it, and you can put anything over a go-go beat, so why not?
TMOTT: Currently, how many musician does the Go-Go Symphony have? Are you accepting more new musicians? And if so, how can one go about auditioning?
LIZA: We are still looking for more musicians, especially trumpet players, woodwind players, and string players. I’d also like to have a funky electric guitar player who likes to play rock power chords. We have a timpani player, but he might need some backup help now and then.
Right now, we have a basic brass, keyboard, and sax section playing with a go-go percussion group. I’m covering the guitar part for now. I also play violin, but I really need to be conducting the orchestra. Musicians who want to audition for the group can contact me at LizaF@artpal.tv
. All positions are voluntary right now, but our goal is to make money, and I’m working on that.
TMOTT: What would you say makes the Go-Go Symphony musicians unique from the other orchestra musicians around the the region?
LIZA: The Go-Go Symphony musicians will be a unique mix of go-go and classical musicians. Go-go musicians might be better at rhythm and improvisation, and classical musicians might be better at reading music. It’s all good – no class of musicians is better than the other. Most orchestras might not be so inclusive.
TMOTT: In reflection, what would you feel would be the greatest artistic accomplishment for the musicians of the Go-Go Symphony?
LIZA: I think we will have succeeded when more people appreciate the go-go beat due to a more universal exposure. But it’s a two way street – more people might listen to classical music because of what we’re doing. We will be bringing two great worlds together.
TMOTT: What is your vision for the future of the Go-Go Symphony?
LIZA: I see us playing together with symphony orchestras in the region. There is already some talk about that, and the classical world is getting excited. Perhaps we can play with orchestras around the country. I see us creating jobs for DC musicians and go-go entrepreneurs and spreading the joy of the go-go beat.
TMOTT: The art of music is a living gift that reaches the musicians and the audience in such vast ways. With that said, is there something in particular that you wish to give, or educate, the audience with your music presentations?
LIZA: I hope we can have all kinds of people partying together to the go-go beat. I’d like to break down musical and social barriers. I want people to give go-go the respect that it deserves through our music. Wish us luck!