Pop & Hiss

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The minimal sound and maximum heart of Janka Nabay's Bubu music

February 16, 2010 |  4:25 pm

The last thing the Sierra Leone musician Janka Nabay did before fleeing his country's civil war more than a decade ago was to lay down a few ebullient and entrancing tracks of his native Bubu music. They're getting an unlikely release next month on the Matador imprint True Panther, and it's a must-hear for anybody interested in Africa, techno, agit-punk or gleeful dancing in summertime. Which should hopefully include all of you.

Aside from being a delightful genre name to say aloud, Nabay has updated Bubu music from the traditional, flute-rooted folk songs of the area to breakneck rhythms played on sun-scarred keyboards and chintzy drum machines. The results are unexpectedly rich and pristine, and its hypnotic qualities are perfectly foiled by the urgency in his sing-speak vocals demanding gender equality and political reform. Little glimmers of harmony and electric guitar brighten the edges, making his "Bubu King" EP -- a collection of decade-old tracks never released outside Sierra Leone -- one of the most singular and enticingly new (well, new to America) sounds of recent months.


True_024_ Few artists have done more on a per-capita basis to define their hometown's music scene than Nabay, who enjoyed rock-god status in Freetown before fleeing the same rebels who co-opted his music as battle anthems in Sierra Leone's civil war. Though he's long since moved to Philadelphia, his "Bubu King" is another testament to the incredible diaspora of African music, where an EP cut under the duress of war with a few hundred bucks' worth of gear can sound like a thrilling love letter from the future.

-- August Brown