Ahmed Janka Nabay is the undisputed king of the bubu music of northern Sierra Leone, 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 so-called pagans. 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.
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.
Listen to To Ma Ya, one of Janka Nabay’s earliest songs: