Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang specialize in a spiced-up version of bubu, music traditionally reserved for ceremonies in Nabay’s native village in Sierra Leone. The music of the group’s debut LP, however, sounds anything but traditional: When Nabay took a trip stateside to escape a war, he created The Bubu Gang, a collective featuring members of Gang Gang Dance, Skeletons, and their respective electronic adventurousness.
Though a brief outing –only eight songs in less than 40 minutes– En Yay Sah, Nabay and company’s first full-length, sets out to affirm life. Key components of each track are driving drum machine beats, deep bass, and Nabay’s somewhat atonal vocal delivery, with whimsical electronic melodies atop it all. Instead of the washed-up imitations of Afrobeat that have worked their way into pop music’s sonic palate, this modernized bubu is fresh in its rambling sounds that, on paper, shouldn’t work so well together. Nearly half the record springs from the Ah Letah EP released earlier this year, but the recycled material feels new in the context of a whole album; for example, “En Mane Ah”‘s hypnotic beat becomes a tame warm-up for the flamboyant “Tay Su Tan-Tan” instead of an album centerpiece.
The group hits their stride in En Yay Sah‘s lengthier tracks, particularly the six-plus-minute songs “Ro Lungi” and “Somebody”, which let the electronic elements fully flourish and the hypnotic drum beats completely pull the listener in. The first affords a wandering, psychedelic guitar solo the spotlight, while the second focuses on layered, repeated vocals to build a groove.
Both parts of the collective have their moments to shine in En Yay Sah‘s strongest efforts, an even split that perfectly mirrors the balance struck throughout the album: a delicious blend of modernity from artists whose other projects sometimes skew into inaccessibility with the universality of Nabay’s joyful cries. The unfamiliar has never felt so inviting.
Essential Tracks: “Somebody”, “Ro Lungi”