Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang, En Yay Sah

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

By Ben Beaumont-Thomas

on 08.07.12 in Reviews

In the wake of Yeasayer, Fool’s Gold and Vampire Weekend, it has become almost a cliché for Brooklyn bands to fold in African influences. But while those bands were generally accessing music such as Ghanaian highlife and Nigerian psych via blogs and YouTube, The Bubu Gang has, in frontman Janka Nabay, a deeper link to the continent.

A faithful African pop record

The Bubu Gang is a band whose members have previously played inBrooklynmainstays like Gang Gang Dance, Skeletons and Zs; Nabay is a Sierra Leonean ex-pat who escaped the civil war there in 2003. He had found fame in his home country by electrifying and recording the folk music of Sierra Leone’s Temne people, called bubu, but he came toAmericawith nothing. After a stint working in a Philadelphian outlet of Crown Fried Chicken, his music reached a Brooklyn radio producer, and he was connected up to the borough’s underground scene.

Their resulting album is a faithful African pop record, with little in the way of American influence, although the warm, clear production is a satisfying step up from the tinny cassette-tape sound that you get with much of the continent’s homegrown music. The Bubu Gang are no slouches when it comes to the polyrhythmic roll of the bubu sound, nailing its taut cadences with rapid-fire organ chords and almost surf-style guitar. The bewildering pace of tracks such as “Ro Lungi” and “Rotin” is like an organic version of South Africa’s digital Shangaan electro sound. And Nabay himself is a charismatic vocalist, singing in four languages, including English, with an earnest delivery that intertwines with the sweeter backing vocals of Boshra AlSaadi. The effect is similar to the dynamic between Fela Kuti and the singers in his band The Africa 70.

But the finest thing about this record is the tension between the propulsiveness of the tempo and the melancholy of the music. Opening track “Feba” shimmies sadly and determinedly with an unforgettable returning melody, while the guitar effects on “Somebody” echo mysteriously above its two note bassline. This is party music, certainly, but with every human emotion churning through it.