PHOTO: Team Familiar’s founder and saxophonist D. Floyd made friends during Team Familiar’s trip to Nigeria at the end of last year./ Photo courtesy of Team Familiar via Facebook
As often happens to children of the Diaspora who visit the Motherland, Team Familiar quickly embraced the overwhelming Blackness of Nigeria during their visit to the West African nation at the end of last year.
Minutes after leaving Murtala International Airport that early December morning, an entourage member, jetlagged and on Facebook live, marveled at the hustle and bustle around him, expressing solidarity with the Nigerian people whose home he called his own.
Donnell Floyd, Team Familiar’s founder and saxophonist, would soon come to find out that Nigerians shared similar sentiments about their brethren in the west. “The first night we got there, [the king] talked to us like cousins sitting around the fireplace and spoke about uniting people and the part music played in that,” D. Floyd told AllEyesOnDC as he described the first day of Team Familiar’s stay with a royal family that lived in a palace three hours outside of Lagos, in the Ife region.
“The king addressed misconceptions about Nigerians being different from Black folks in America and explained it very simply: ‘your forefathers were captured and mine weren’t but we’re really the same.’ Just talking to him was the most amazing part,” added Floyd, 53.
Thus began an experience that exposed Nigerians to go-go music and helped Team Familiar explore the African roots of the musical genre they’ve dominated since after the turn of the century. As pioneers of the “Grown & Sexy” go-go subgenre, Team Familiar maintained a following among Generation Xers that shunned the contemporary, bounce beat sound. Team Familiar’s fans have followed band members, each of whom is a star in their own right, along their individual journeys in the industry reaching long before Team Familiar’s founding.
Despite changes in their line up in recent years and questions about go-go’s future amid rapid gentrification and a mass exodus of young talent to the trap rap industry, Team Familiar has managed to maintain a presence in D.C.’s go-go scene, appearing weekly and filling venues.
In addition to Floyd, bandmates currently include Milton “Go-Go Mickey” Freeman on the congas and Marquis “Quisy” Melvin on the vocals. Last December’s trip to Nigeria, organized in the aftermath of a chance encounter with the Ife region’s Prince Ayotunde Adebayo-Isadipe at a Baltimore show earlier that year, connected team Familiar with a demographic that may have never considered go-go as a viable musical choice.
“They took to the go-go sound pretty good,” Go-Go Mickey told AllEyesOnDC. “We played a lot of cover tunes with the go-go beat and the ladies were singing and dancing when they heard the words.” Mickey said.
During their four-day trip, most of which was spent in the Ife region, Team Familiar performed at at the Pan-Afrikan Back to the Roots Festival as the royal family’s special guests. Radio listeners also heard some go-go, courtesy of Team Familiar. For what felt like a few minutes, band members also met Femi Kuti, artist and son of Afrobeats pioneer Fela Kuti. Floyd said that meeting reaffirmed a need to “accentuate the drums” a bit more in the music.
The lessons didn’t stop.
While out and about in the Ife region, bandmates immersed themselves in the pandemonium of the local marketplaces and watch as even children as young as four and five ran errands. After vibing to the sounds of African drums, Go-Go Mickey joined two percussionists under some palm trees for an afternoon jam session that D. Floyd recorded on Facebook Live.
“They don’t have a worry in the world. The music takes a lot of the pain away and takes their mind off of things,” Mickey said as he described his memories of Nigeria. Though reeling from a South Africa trip with jazz musician Marc Curry and exhausted throughout the trip, elements of Nigerian life caught his attention. “Once [people] hear the main drum, they stop doing what they’re doing. Playing with them guys over there, was all fun. We were vibing off of each other,” Mickey noted.
At a time when African consciousness has emerged among Black people in the United States, tapping into the Diaspora seems like a natural pivot for go-go music, an artform birthed in “Chocolate City,” a place with a growing Black immigrant population. In March, Backyard Band, in a collaboration with The Adrinka Group, will perform in Ghana and film a documentary as part of what’s called BACK2Africa:Thru the Door of No Return.
Team Familiar’s also looking to the future. There has been talk of return trips later this year. Some future work may also reflect more of a West African influence and a have heavier percussion.
“If anything, it was reaffirmed that percussion is what makes it work,” D. Floyd said. “You don’t hide it for nothing. You blast it. In Africa, it’s explainable. You expect it and feel it. That’s what I like to go after more aggressively. Trip trip as taught me to push the percussion and accentuate it more.”
***See members of Team Familiar live at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe on Friday, Jan 19th as they discuss their Nigeria trip in more detail during The AllEyesOnDC Show: Exploring Go-Go’s African Roots. The show starts at 8pm. ***