When the nine ladies of Be’la Dona hit the stage, they bring with them a wealth of individual musical experience: classical training of the highest caliber, weekly musical ministry in church, and years of work backing leading national artists ranging from Nile Rogers to Erykah Badu to Salt-N-Pepa. Together, they form one of the hottest bands playing D.C.’s best-known musical product, the unstoppable party music known as go-go.
Emerging in D.C. in the early 1970s and pioneered by Chuck Brown, go-go is a highly syncopated, percussive regional offshoot of funk. It bridged the gap between disco and rap, blending Latin beats, rhythm and blues, gospel, and jazz—and layering that groove over a distinctive signature percussion pattern. Go-go is first and foremost a live experience; it places a premium on crowd interaction, with call-and-response chants and responsive dance movements creating a dialogue between performer and audience. One song blends into the next to keep people dancing all night, creating a continuous party groove. Go-go thrives regionally around marathon performances, bootlegged recordings of live sets, and the fanatical loyalty of its local fans. It is the soundtrack of “the DMV,” as insiders call the D.C./Maryland/Virginia music scene, and today is experiencing a sustained revival in the hands of artists like Be’la Dona.
Be’la Dona was founded in 2007 by drummer Shannon “Sha’non” Browne, who continues to power the group’s rhythm section. One of her cofounders was Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell-Agurs, whom she had met two decades before while they were students at D.C.’s prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Be’la Dona’s music director as well as a keyboardist and vocalist, Mitchell-Agurs was a long-time member of “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown’s band, and has been named Instrumentalist of the Year six times by the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA). Joining her on vocal duties are MC Karis Hill, Kim Scott, and Dani Jordan. They are backed by a rock-solid band featuring Shannon Brown, bassist Tempest “Storm” Thomas, guitar player Taylor Gamble, Claudia “Kool Keys” Rodgers on keys, and percussionist Natarsha Proctor. Both Claudia and Natarsha are veterans of Pleasure, D.C.’s first all-female go-go band.
Be’la Dona’s undeniable talent and musical magnetism transcend gender: they have been named Best Go-Go Group by WAMA three times in the last seven years. Nonetheless, when you combine band members’ dedication to teaching and inspiring girls and women with the signature high-energy blend of ladies-first showmanship, style, and musical chops that they call “sensual crank,” you get the nation’s premiere all-female go-go band.