Rare Essence, Washington’s premier go go band for more than three decades , has built a devoted fan base that spans multiple generations, drawn to the indigenous funk sired in the mid ‘70s by the late Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown. Using a beat adapted from Grover Washington Jr.'s 1974 hit,"Mr. Magic" Brown and his band the Soul Searchers played continuously, linking songs together over percussion breakdowns—a raw, non-stop party groove fueled by congas, cowbells and timbales, with call and response interactions that obliterated divisions between a band that wouldn’t stop playing and audience that couldn’t stop dancing.
“The Beat,” an irresistible, jubilant meld of funk and go-go, was soon incorporated into the songs as well and go-go became the signature D.C. sound, the pulsing soundtrack for the city’s African-American community. No single type of music has been more identified with the Nation’s Capital.
Rare Essence would be one of Brown’s earliest, and have remained his most enduring, progeny, with a consistently combustible live show honed through countless performances in the Washington region. Go-go thrives live and that’s where reputations, and legacies, are cemented. As the Washington Post noted in a 2010 review, “....this band has performed more than 5,000 times. Like so many Rare Essence concerts, it’s easy to believe you’re seeing the best one.”
Little wonder they were dubbed “The Wickedest Band Alive” by rap pioneer Doug E. Fresh, who has collaborated with Rare Essence, one of many artists to incorporate go go's percolating percussion, and some of its key players, into their own recordings.
In 2000, Rare Essence and the cultural and musical traditions they embody received official recognition by being included as part of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival; their show with Chuck Brown drew the biggest crowd ever for a Festival concert on the National Mall.
2013 found Rare Essence still working the local and regional concert circuit full-throttle, with several special events highlighting their historical importance. In February, they headlined the legendary Lincoln Theater after a screening of “Straight Up Go-Go,” a 1992 documentary tracing the music’s development from the 1970s through its national and international explosion in the ‘80s.
Meanwhile, Rare Essence’s fabulously fluorescent Day-Glo concert posters, crafted by Baltimore’s renowned Globe Poster Printing Corp and tacked to telephone poles and trees along every major city thoroughfare—the so-called “Talking Drum” network— were featured in the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s "Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s," a major show commemorating the city’s graffiti, go go and hardcore punk scenes.
And on May 17, Rare Essence honored Chuck Brown on the first anniversary of his passing with a free concert outside Washington’s WTOP television studios, drawing hundreds to a celebration of the Godfather of Go-Go and the sound of city that they helped define.