I never got a chance to write about this here. Back in this sum­mer, a friend named DJ offered me the oppor­tu­nity to guest write for their music mag­a­zine, The Metro­jolt. I got in con­tact with him and his asso­ciates, got my press pass, and off I went into my first real jour­nal­is­tic endeavor. Here’s a look at the first arti­cle I’ve ever writ­ten, you can check it out if you want to.

Music col­lab­o­rates with itself in a strange way. Our per­sonal tastes com­bine bands who would never dream of see­ing the stage together, playlists/mixtapes slam­ming together gen­res that are com­pletely unre­lated but some­how mesh per­fectly in sequence. What’s even stranger is see­ing this all hap­pen live. Bubu music is an old folk style from Sierra Leone, blend­ing cer­e­mo­nial reli­gious music with upbeat dance — some­thing you wouldn’t expect to see in the mid­dle of San Fran­cisco. Janka Nabay, how­ever, allows this to hap­pen, and when he does, it makes per­fect sense. After flee­ing Sierra Leone in the midst of war and strife in the early 90s, Janka came to New York where he became the first recorded Bubu artist, adding elec­tronic beats and instru­men­ta­tion to revi­tal­ize the tra­di­tional folk sound.

When I first got the call to cover the west coast debut of Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, I was ever so excited. The invite told me that Janka “single-handedly rad­i­cal­ized bubu within the coun­try, a frantically-paced elec­tronic dance music with ancient, mag­i­cal ori­gins”. Exactly my kind of jazz. So I grabbed my cam­era, met up with some friends and headed for Rick­shaw Stop around 9:30, about an hour before the show was to begin.

Amongst a hand­ful of hip­sters in ruck­sacks and dim lights, we saw Cash Pony doing their open­ing set, a self-described psy­chadelic prog rock out­fit from San Fran­cisco. With heavy bass lines, a deep alto sax blast­ing on top of the gui­tarist and psy­chadelic visu­als pro­jected behind them, the small crowd and I nod­ded our heads glee­fully. Sun Araw did a short set next, mix­ing aquatic lo-fi with exper­i­men­tal live-looping of gui­tar and lead singer Cameron Stallone’s vocals. More peo­ple began fil­ter­ing in now for Sun Araw’s set, although the energy was still mel­low and docile, not at all what I was expect­ing for erratic Afro-electronic dance music.

Janka took the stage in his grass skirt and Africa-stamped pants and imme­di­ately every­thing fell into the place. Along with the rest of his rad­i­cally diverse Bubu Gang(consisting of Doug Shaw from Gang Gang Gang, Jason Mcma­hon and Jonathan Leland from Skele­tons, Mike Gal­lope from Star­ring and vocal­ist Boshra Al-Saadi), they turned the once-quiet venue into a boom­ing dance party. Peo­ple (who now seem­ingly crowded the floor in every direc­tion) from every side of us were bounc­ing and jiv­ing, let­ting the African beats take us for a wild adven­ture with feet stomp­ing and hands clap­ping. Look­ing around me, I even spot­ted the mem­bers of both Sun Araw and Cash Pony danc­ing along­side me, and a pair of middle-aged cou­ples with ties around their heads shook their hands above their head willy-nilly inches away from the stage. A damn good time for all. Every­one, from the shy peo­ple try­ing hard only to observe in the back to the dozens of 20-somethings with drinks-in-hand found their feet jig­gling and their heads bop­ping in time with Janka, and a huge mess of fun beamed over the whole crowd.

Boshra expertly returned each one of Janka’s Temne calls and the two danced and laughed all the while. Even Mike, their heavily-fro’d key­boardist was pound­ing away on his keys, bounc­ing his whole body as he struck the keys along with their drum­mer. Every song got more fast-paced as Janka danced back and forth on stage with us, tak­ing jam­rock reg­gae beats and mash­ing them with tribal singing and dri­ving elec­tronic beats from the drum pad and keys.

In between songs Janka told us the sig­nif­i­cance of Bubu music, how it united his peo­ple in war-times and the rea­son he wants the world over to know about it. Although we were all laugh­ing and play­ing, the seri­ous under­tone of his songs being a let­ter to his coun­try didn’t at all make it at all somber — in fact it only added to how pow­er­ful the music seemed. Janka and the gang fin­ished their set with a Carribean-styled song rife with steel drums and a final encore that had the whole crowd singing along with only Janka and Boshra on stage, demand­ing we all “jump jump jump jump jump”.

I caught up with Boshra after the show and she wove the tale of Janka’s dif­fi­cult past and how they all man­aged to run into each other almost by sheer coin­ci­dence in Brook­lyn a few years back. They’ve been together ever since, col­lab­o­rat­ing to show off the magic Bubu music has in store.

All 3 bands and I sat together back­stage for a bit and chat­ted along with a few friends, and you could see how even these 3 dis­parate groups man­aged to find their com­mon denom­i­na­tor. The style of music and even the instru­men­ta­tion com­pletely changed from artist to artist (with any­thing from sitars to synths to tam­bourines the entire night) but the energy only man­aged to build and rise. All of the artists spoke won­ders of Janka and it wasn’t hard to see why. Hell, the bar even ded­i­cated a whiskey drink to him through­out the night, call­ing it Janka’s Groove. And groove we all did.

Catch Janka and the Gang’s newest sin­gle, Feba, right here.
until their new LP En Yay Sah is released in a few weeks on August 7th.

Writ­ten by Kian Lavi
Pho­tog­ra­phy by Kian Lavi

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