Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang - "Ro Lungi": SXSW Music 2012
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Published on May 30, 2012
Janka Nabay is the undisputed king of bubu music, a frantically-paced electronic dance music with ancient, magical origins in Sierra Leone (known as Salone by locals). Before Janka, Sierra Leoneans thought of bubu music as a relic of the past, something best left in the hills with the folk singers and witches. But in the mid 90s, during the Sierra Leonean civil war, Janka resuscitated and modernized bubu. Salone quickly fell under its spell.
In the summer of 2010, Janka formed the first bubu band ever in America with Brooklyn-based members of bands like Skeletons, Gang Gang Dance / Highlife, Zs and Saadi. The BUBU GANG is presently negotiating the release of its first EP in March, and an LP in June, label info TBA VERY SHORTLY!
Janka's history is deep -- in the late 90s, he was the first musician to electrify bubu music, adding synths and drum machines to the airy hum of blown bamboo shoots and carburetor pipes. Janka's bubu connects the dots between low-fi African techno and bubu's ancient processional origins. This new bubu makes a point: that in the rush to modernize and escape the war, Sierra Leoneans risk abandoning their native culture. Janka's music is out to change this — to prove that connection to indigenous culture is modern, futuristic even. This ethos made an impact in Janka's beloved, war-torn country. As civil war raged in Freetown, Janka's cassettes sold in the hundreds of thousands. Kids followed him through the streets, transported by the music.
To Janka's chagrin, some of the rebels sought to appropriate his music, along with the land. They misappropriated Janka's hits as a way to rev themselves up before killing, and to lure innocent people out of hiding. In response to this, Janka fought back with music. He penned "Good Governance" to support peace, culture and the empowerment of women. But despite Janka's efforts to make peace in Salone (his music partially inspired the Lome Peace Accords), civil war escalated and Janka became a target. He was able to escape, and on a final night in Freetown, Janka and his bubu boys recorded a few new songs at Forensic Studios. Bubu is still played throughout Sierra Leone, and Janka Nabay's name remains synonymous with the music.
Four of Janka's final songs from Freetown are featured on the Bubu King EP, released on True Panther Sounds. The Bubu King EP is now the only collection of bubu music that's available outside of Sierra Leone. Although these songs are nearly ten years old, they remain strikingly potent, with resonance and relevance stretching well beyond the borders of Salone. One can hear kindred rhythms in the Angola's Kuduro, Detroit's Techno, and Brazil's Baille Funk.
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