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Looking Back: Team Familiar’s Nigerian Experience

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. ***



In Nigeria, Team Familiar Will Celebrate Go-Go’s African Roots

Courtesy Photo of Team Familiar 

Even with decades of experience under his belt, D. Floyd, Team Familiar’s lead mic and saxophonist doesn’t shy away from change. Since the turn of the century, Team Familiar has carved out its own space in D.C.’s go-go scene, dominating the “Grown & Sexy” subgenre and staying relevant.

At this juncture in Team Familiar’s journey, the band is looking to West Africa, the ancestral home of Black Americans and epicenter of ancient percussion that inspired go-go and musical art forms preceding it. For band members, an upcoming musical tour in Nigeria will be the cultural exchange that can open the doors for a transformation.

“I’ve always looked for ways to stretch the go-go percussion rhythm,” D. Floyd told AllEyesOnDC. “My goal is to take in and learn as much as a 53-year-old man can learn about the culture we come from.”

This diasporic experience will happen during the Pan-Afrikan Back to the Roots Festival, a celebration of global African music and culture taking place in the D.C. metropolitan area and Nigeria between Dec. 5th and 10th.

In Nigeria, Team Familiar will play at a royal palace in the Ife region, located two hours from the capital city of Lagos, and perform three shows. Go-Go Mickey, Team Familiar’s widely revered congas player, will participate in an African drum circle and band members hope to meet Femi Kuti, the son of late musical pioneer and activist Fela Kuti.

The younger Kuti shares Floyd’s affinity for the saxophone.

“[Femi Kuti] finds a way of mixing the African drums in his jazz music. It’s kind of what we aim for in the world of go-go,” Floyd added. “Our drums provided the foundation of whatever we want to marry it with. We marry it with R&B. Whatever you want to put on top, go-go is the foundation.”

In addition to D. Floyd and Go-Go Mickey, Team Familiar includes Maquis “Quisy” Melvin on vocals and Sean Geason playing bass. Mickey, who shared Floyd’s outlook on go-go’s African origins, told AllEyesOnDC he’d have little trouble fitting in once he touches down in Nigeria.,even recounting an impromptu jam session he had with an African music group while setting up for a show in D.C.

“I got in right with them. It’s not hard at all, “I can feel and play any rhythm. African rhythms have that go-go feel and go-go beats came from Africa.” said Mickey who’s currently touring with Marc Cary in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Since go-go’s birth, parallels have existed between the genre’s rhythms and call-and-response style and what’s heard in African music, as well as other musical forms found throughout the African Diaspora. The 1992 Documentary “Straight Up Go-Go,” produced by Sowande Tichowanna, highlighted these similarities.

Team Familiar isn’t the only go-go band performing on the African continent, perhaps a testament to a resurgent sense of African pride and consciousness among Black American artists, particularly those in the go-go industry. Next February, Backyard Band will tour throughout Ghana, and host a concert at Cape Coast Castle, a one-time prominent slave trading port.

Plans for Team Familiar’s Nigeria Trip coalesced after Prince Ayotunde Adebayo-Isadipe heard the band play at a Baltimore lounge in July. By that time, he had already hosted the inaugural Pan-Afrikan Back to the Roots Festival. The festival, Prince Ayotunde said, will eventually expand to include a naming ceremony and African-centred marriage counseling.

Prince Ayotunde, a man of Yoruba ancestry who has lived in the U.S. since 2002, saw Team Familiar’s involvement as a means of expanding a mission centered on fostering a cultural identity among people of African descent in the West.

“My personal experiences [in the U.S.] and what I’ve learned about the transatlantic slave trade showed me that there’s a lot of missing information between us,” Prince Ayotunde said. “This program [the Pan-Afrikan Back to the Roots Festival] was created to bridge that gap and get the missing information out. This will help people have some sense of identity. Most African Americans don’t identify with us and that’s one of the side effects of what happened on the slave trade.”

For more information about this trip or Team Familiar, visit 


AllEyesOnDC: The “No Culture without Agriculture” Edition

No saying speaks more to Black people’s need to get back our indigenous ways than “There’s no culture without agriculture.” In the spirit of Earth Day, AllEyesOnDC wanted to focus on Our lost connection to the Earth and usher a call for getting back to our roots.

At Sankofa Video Books & Café on the night of April 21st, people in attendance, including this host, saw parallels between agriculture, genealogy, health and fitness, metaphysics, economics, and politics during a two-hour program that included interviews with Sherice, Sr., master urban farmer and leader of the Hippee Chic urban gardening/sustainability movement and Xavier Brown of Soilful City.

Baba Tarik Oduno, a fixture in the D.C. community and pioneer of “There’s no culture without agriculture,” broke down the meaning of that saying, reminding audience members that we must always honor our mothers and fathers and understand our history. After all, Baba Oduno said, “genius is in our genealogy.” Note that this segment was less of an interview, and more of a lecture, all to the audience’s benefit.

Wrapping up the evening was a demonstration by Christina Cook, a Teaching Artist Institute fellow, of how rhythm could boost communication for people on the spectrum (autism, ADHD, etc.). During this segment, five audience members, including Baba Oduno, beat on drums and learned how to create the perfect combination of rhythms – all without speaking a word to one another.

Check out this video and get a great look at what community and self-determination, as it relates to food production, looks like in the District of Columbia.

A Moment with Nana Malaya Rucker

Since the age of 16, Nana Mayala Rucker has brought African-centered folklore to life through spoken word and dance. Her craft for telling stories in this manner has taken her around the world. She has before well-known political powerbrokers. In her role as a “cultural ambassador” Rucker introduces people of various backgrounds to forms of African dance and music. In her journey, she learned more about the most remote places on earth and the elements of Africa they possess.

These days, Rucker performs and educates our young ones, ensuring that the arts remain a vehicle for change that people of African descent utilize to their fullest potential. At a time when schools in communities of color have embraced test-based curricula, this elder works hard to bridge the generational gap and ensure that young people have access to a time-tested means of the artistic education that has been proven to uplift. This mission bears a strong similarity to previous ventures, including Nubian Theatre & Dance Co., an international dance company that has exposed children and adults of African descent to the folklore and spoken word since the early 1980s.

In this AllEyesOnDC video, Rucker, a student of August Wilson, John Henrik Clarke, and other prominent African figures and scholars, reflects on her coming of age, how she rose in African consciousness, and the hurdles that she faced in her pursuit of international stardom. She then closes this segment with a performance honoring the late, great Rosa Parks on the 60th anniversary of the day she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.

Sa-Roc the MC Receives a Hometown Hero’s Welcome at Sankofa

Last week, conscious hip-hop artist and native Washingtonian Sa-Roc the MC performed in a packed Liv Nightclub in Northwest. More than 24 hours before gracing the stage however, a small audience that included fans, family members, and friends got to know the lyricist more intimately.

On the evening of Tuesday, March 1, nearly 40 people converged on Sankofa Video Books & Café on Georgia Avenue to chat with Sa-Roc and vibe to her music during a two-hour meet-and-greet event. During this function, she addressed visitors with short remarks, passed out copies of her work, and chopped it up with admirers.

“It feels good to be in D.C. I wasn’t doing much of my music here so it feels good to display my work in my hometown,” Sa-Roc, a former Howard University student and alumna of the NationHouse School who hails from Southeast, told AllEyesOnDC during the meet-and-greet. “It’s formative. I’ve been living in Atlanta for so long that people don’t see me as a D.C. artist. Being in the D.C. music scene solidifies things in my mind.”

Since leaving the District in 2002 to pursue her music career, Sa-Roc hasn’t come back home, other than to perform every once so often. Even so, her lyrics, arguably the most conspicuous sign of an Afrocentric upbringing, reflect a life and absorption of culture indigenous to those living in what was once known as “Chocolate City.” Sa-Roc’s vast discography includes “SA-ROC: Journey of the Starseed,” “Supernova,” and most recently “Gift of Magi.”

In her music, one can hear remnants of go-go, old-school hip-hop, indie rock, and other musical genres. Sa-roc’s influences include Jimi Hendrix, Earth Wind & Fire, and Gil Scott Heron, perhaps a testament to the rebellious nature of her craft and rebellious lyricism. These days, she counts among the handful of prominent black female emcees that don’t bare it all for the screen or rap about their sexual exploits. Such a dedication to being the “other” has led to collaborations with Jay Electronica, Nappy Roots, Afrika Bambataa, David Banner, and of Dead Prez.

Nich Lewis, mother of two young women and community member who lives in Northeast, told AllEyesOnDC that she respects Sa-Roc, so much so that she wants her daughters to look to her as an example of black womanhood. On Tuesday evening, Lewis and her brother strolled into Sankofa eager to chat with Sa-Roc during the meet-and-greet.

“Sa-Roc’s classy and operates on divine energy. I first checked her out on ‘Spittin In Da Wip,’” Lewis said. “She gets her point across without taking off her clothes. That’s scarce in this generation. Listening to her music makes me feel like Chocolate City never died.”

Southern Illinois University professor Najjar Abdul-Musawwir echoed Lewis’ sentiments, saying the entertainment industry has slowly pivoted toward a more conservative, wholesome look in recent years mainly due to an oversaturation of sexually explicit content. Musawwir, who’s currently conducting research about the African origins of the Banjo at the Smithsonian Institute, came to the event with a friend.

That evening, he too talked extensively with Sa-Roc and even pledged to attend her show at Liv, stressing that black people must support art that uplift the race.

“I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m really glad that Sa-Roc is putting this music out,” Musawwir told AllEyesOnDC. “Some artists throw out sloppy singles. She’s top grade. All of her stuff is of the highest quality. In this society, we have downgraded ourselves so much that people are thirsty for this type of music. Sa-Roc is of the people and for the people. She dresses up her music with knowledge.”

If Sa-Roc left a mark on anyone that evening, it was Ja-Dor Stewart, a middle schooler and aspiring R&B singer who attended the Sankofa meet-and-greet with her mother. Ja-Dor, who’s currently applying to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest, said Sa-Roc showed her what’s possibly for a young artist growing in her African consciousness.

“Sa-Roc came out of the African culture to make music,” Ja-Dor told AllEyesOnDC. “She’s standing up as a positive influence for a lot of youth at a time when the music industry is trying to take down a lot of good artists. She’s blazing a trail to show us that we don’t have to be status quo.”

Follow Sa-Roc on Instagram and Facebook.

Mikey Dee Talks Music Career, Life, and D.C. Issues

D.C. hip-hop artist Mikey Dee visits AllEyesOnDC and discusses his career, locally coveted Metro tour, and the intricacies of the music business.

Hip-Hop Lyricist Competition Comes to D.C.

Sam P.K. Collins interviews Jeff Mimms of Jack’n for Beats and Chicago hip-hop artist Sinatris about a contest in the D.C. area for aspiring artists.

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