Ahmed Janka Nabay comes from Sierra Leone, where he modernized and popularized a form of music anciently associated with Temne religious processions. Bubu music, he says, used to be played on pipes and flutes. Now it is mixed with other ideas, played on guitar, keyboard, and other instruments. The spiral dance rhythm of An Letah lets you know we’ve got our toes in West Africa, and the implied hoot of the echoing keyboard might be the residue of those pipes from the past.
To call Ahmed Janka Nabay "the King of Bubu" is neither PR one-sheet parlance nor excitable music critic hyperbole nor the utterings of a delusional, egomaniac of a musician. When Nabay self-proclaims himself "Bubu King," it's truth, in that he was the one to cart that localized folk music form into a major African metropolis and put it not just on the radio, but on national television and before thousands at sold-out concert stadiums in his native land. And perhaps more important than that, Nabay has taken bubu before the all-important hipster demographic in Brooklyn, where they too have crowned him king.
Sierra Leone-born Ahmed Janka Nabay makes a fresh afro-pop dance party out of bubu, the long-derelict ceremonial music of the Tenme ethnic group that he picked up in the ’90s during the Sierra Leonean civil war. His modernized take on this ancient music melds electronica and traditional instrumentation, a combination that brings together blown bamboo shoots, carburetor pipes, a drum machine, keyboards, guitar, and an elliptical jamboree of percussion and totally infectious call-and-response choruses. It became wildly popular and a source of pride in the country during the war, but Janka was eventually forced to flee to safety in the U.S.
In his home country of Sierra Leone, Janka Nabay is known as the “bubu king,” referring to his notoriety as the torchbearer for bubu music. Played as a popular Islamic religious processional music during Ramadan, the style was transformed by Nabay, almost single-handedly, when he modernized the bubu sound by adding electronic and studio instrumentation to it. He began recording his work and releasing the tracks on cassette, which resulted in his wide-spread popularity across Sierra Leone.