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.Written by Kian Lavi
until their new LP En Yay Sah is released in a few weeks on August 7th.
Photography by Kian Lavi