Review : Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang - En Yay Sah
ConsequenceofsoundJanka 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. Key components of each track are driving drum machine beats, deep bass, and Nabay’s somewhat atonal vocal delivery, with whimsical electronic melodies atop it all. Instead of the washed-up imitations of Afrobeat that have worked their way into pop music’s sonic palate, this modernized bubu is fresh in its rambling sounds that, on paper, shouldn’t work so well together. Nearly half the record springs from the Ah Letah EP released earlier this year, but the recycled material feels new in the context of a whole album; for example, “En Mane Ah”‘s hypnotic beat becomes a tame warm-up for the flamboyant “Tay Su Tan-Tan” instead of an album centerpiece....full text
CmjEverything 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. This music has deep roots, but Nabay’s version of bubu is more contemporary and club oriented than folksy....full text
PitchforkWhen 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. For a time, Nabay used to his music to speak out against the country's spiraling civil war, but when rebels co-opted his music during their destructive drives into rural villages, he found himself with few options but to leave.
In the United States, he searched for collaborators while working as a fry cook, and found them not in the Sierra Leonean ex-pat community, but in Brooklyn's indie rock scene. The Bubu Gang, Nabay's backing band on En Yay Sah, comprises members of Skeletons, Chairlift, Highlife, and Saadi, and their method of collaboration was simple: Nabay showed them the rhythms he was working with and the songs he'd written, and he turned them loose. Jon Leland's drums hold down the heavily syncopated bubu beats, the music's strongest tie to tradition, and the rest of the band cooks up a backing for Nabay that sounds so intensely modern it's practically futuristic. Guitarist Doug Shaw plays no rhythm, instead adding color to the music with mildly psychedelic leads that focus on melody when Nabay isn't singing and recede to tonal washes during the verses.
Nabay's weathered but agile voice is the kind of instrument that would likely sound at home on a sparse field recording, so it's curious how well it integrates with Jason McMahon's sleek-toned bass and Michael Gallope's bright, tropical keyboard sounds. The integration is helped by the backing vocals of Syrian-born Boshra AlSaadi, who sings answering phrases to Nabay's leads and functions essentially as part of the rhythm section. Her repeated vocal line on "Ro Lungi" becomes the song's primary hook, complementing and reinforcing the keyboard phrase that serves as the other hook and gives shape to Nabay's rapid-fire lead vocals....full text
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