Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang: “Feba”
There are few artists out there that can claim the title of voice of their country. Janka Nabay can. In the mid and late 90s, while his country was in the midst of a vicious civil war, the Sierra Leonean singer and his bubu music became one of the few unifying forces in a country that was tearing itself apart.
Nabay belongs to the Temne people of northern and western Sierra Leone, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Nabay was the first to record and spread bubu, the music of the Temne, hence his title of the “King of Bubu.” The music is traditionally played during Ramadan celebrations using bamboo and metal pipes. It reached an audience beyond the Temne after Nabay performed it on SuperSound, a Sierra Leonean music talent show a la American Idol. Nabay began to record his own brand of bubu, but he replaced the traditional instruments with loops, electronic beats and synths. Even in the war-ravaged country, his cassettes could be heard blasting from stereos all over the country, on both sides of the conflict.
Eventually Nabay left Sierra Leone for the United States. Despite the fame in his home country, Nabay was virtually unknown here, and took a job working in a Pennsylvania chicken restaurant and performing whenever he could. But not for long. Some of his recordings came to the attention of True Panther, a subsidiary label of Matador Records, who released his debut stateside EP Bubu King back in 2010. Nabay moved to the hipster of mecca of Brooklyn, and set about reclaiming the fame he enjoyed in his own country.
He’s joined in his quest with a set of top-notch group of Brooklyn musicians from bands Gang Gang Dance, Skeletons and Starring. In March, Nabay issued An Letah, his second EP for True Panther, and in August, Nabay and the Bubu Gang will release their debut full-length En Yay Sah on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. The album’s lead track, “Feba,” is today’s song of the day. It’s safe to say that even though Nabay is far from his homeland, he’ll always be the Bubu King.