Janka Nabay is from Sierra Leone, a country most people associate almost exclusively with diamonds, oppression and Kanye West. He plays bubu, a style of African music indigenous to his home country that most people have never heard of. Nabay achieved success in Sierra Leone as a bubu revivalist when most of his contemporaries had turned to reggae; but, like many others, he moved to the U.S.
Sierra Leonean vocalist and songwriter Janka Nabay and his Bubu Gang play a massively hybridized form of traditional bubu, an ancient ceremonial folk music indigenous to Nabay's country that predates Islam. Nabay was an established musician at home, a rock star who sold tens of thousands of records. After he fled his war-ravaged nation for the U.S., it took a full decade working menial jobs before he found his way to Brooklyn and formed this band.
When war drove him from Sierra Leone to New York, Janka Nabay was one of the most popular musicians in his homeland. He'd been one of the primary performers in the revival and fusioning of bubu music, an ancient folk form that had survived the 18th-century introduction of Islam to the country. At a time when the Sierra Leonean music scene was dominated by imported forms, and especially reggae, the old bubu rhythms injected an energizing shot of local flavor into pop music.
Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang specialize in a spiced-up version of bubu, music traditionally reserved for ceremonies in Nabay’s native village in Sierra Leone. The music of the group’s debut LP, however, sounds anything but traditional: When Nabay took a trip stateside to escape a war, he created The Bubu Gang, a collective featuring members of Gang Gang Dance, Skeletons, and their respective electronic adventurousness. Though a brief outing –only eight songs in less than 40 minutes– En Yay Sah, Nabay and company’s first full-length, sets out to affirm life.
Everything old is new again—this is the feeling pouring out of the debut LP from bubu artists Janka Nabay And The Bubu Gang. Ahmed Janka Nabay is solely responsible for bringing the bubu style to today’s ears, so it is hard to give context to this album through comparison; there is literally nothing else quite like it. A two-time CMJ Music Marathon performer, Nabay maintains the rhythmic backbone of the Sierra Leone folk style but updates it with electrified instruments on En Yay Sah.