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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

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Sound Travels Band to Watch! Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang

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On a cold(ish) winter night a few months back, I was given a last-minute tip that one of the bands I had literally just featured on Sound Travels, was to be in Milwaukee that same night. Of course I was going, why would I miss the chance to see any global music in the Mil when so few actually make it our way? The band in question was one I had just discovered on my own, and likely only because I thought the name was so funny I had to hear what they sounded like. That band was none other than Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang.

At the time, I really had only heard a couple of songs; both were good tunes that featured a propulsive, driving rhythm that seemed to have only one speed-- full throttle. Though the rhythm was African, it was unlike any I'd come across and was dappled in swirling keyboard riffs and a High Life-like guitar work and laced up with lyrics that occasionally lilted into a pidgin English but were also in one of the many languages spoken in frontman Janka Nabay's homeland of Sierra Leone. I knew from my research that he was pretty much the only cat around performing in a style known as Bubu and that the band was also composed of art students who were really neophytes in the African music scene. An odd recipe to be sure, but intriguing nonetheless; especially given that they were also on Bonnaroo's 2012 line-up.

Again, how could I refuse the opportunity? I'm glad I didn't. 

Live, they sounded nearly as good as they did on record and that was especially impressive considering they were short several key members and had members of Delicat Steve's band filling in. Not sure anybody at the show other than me knew what to expect. In any case, they rocked. Like a lot of African music, the rhythm is established first and foremost, and layers of instrumentation added like a dealer revealing his hand, vocals come in a bit after that to take the song to its destination. And for many there, that was a strange, exotic place. Entranced by the bouncy bubble of the rhythm, Nabay would join in at some point, with sing-song lyricism and backed by other members of the band on the refrain, the music was so catchy, so poppy, you couldn't help but try to sing along.

I admit, they won me right there; and left me wanting. Till today that is, as I now have their new full-length, En Yah Sah in hand and on my mind. After a couple of spins, I'm all-in and would not be surprised if this thing blows up on the indie scene. Much as Konono No. 1 did a few years back. If you're looking for the "next (somewhat) big thing," these cats got your sound. Signed to Luaka Bop, they've got the right backing to blow up in that peculiar way world music does in America and a sound that's hard to resist. A Sound Travels favorite for sure!

Peep the Luaka Bop site for the full story on Janka Nabay...