Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gringa's Guide Update: Lineup Switcheroo

Diplomatic developments flew fast and furious after I posted my Gringa’s Guide last week.  We seem to have averted jumping headlong into Syria’s civil war, for the moment, though Obama’s made it clear he reserves the right to strike.  So keep dancing.  Here’s another West African beat beat for you.  Janka Nabay’s bubu music, originally from Sierra Leone, replaces the Nigerien band Tal National in the MWMF Saturday afternoon lineup (5:30 PM on the Willy St. stage) thanks to the inevitable visa issues from which no world music fest anywhere has ever escaped.  Nabay, singer and showman, is called the Bubu King, though his is a lonely royal court – no queens, princes or rising bubu bands on the horizon.  If you Google “bubu music” or even “traditional bubu music of Sierra Leone” you won’t get any hits that don’t link to Nabay, probably because nobody else has urbanized and popularized it.  There’s a lone tape recording of traditional bubu music made years back by a Peace Corps volunteer – you can check out a clip in this article: .  This basic bubu is Afro-Muslim drum and bamboo flute music.  But what Nabay plays today is a long way from home.  Sierra Leone, like its neighbor to the south, Liberia, was the scene of freed African slave resettlement from Europe and the New World in the nineteenth century – though the former, rich in diamonds, was a British colony until 1962, while the latter was a sort of quasi colony of the US, financed by affluent white abolitionists whose political influence lasted well into the twentieth century.  Sierra Leone’s diamonds, as you can easily guess, led to gross social inequality, smuggling, corruption, deep-seated political unrest – and a brutal civil war that spanned the 1990s.  Nabay, in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, was playing an urbanized, reggae-tinged version of bubu, which the anti-government rebels -- who committed infamously gruesome atrocities that far outstripped the crimes of war and corruption perpetrated by the postcolonial players in power -- appropriated as a symbol of their identity. Nabay ended up caught in the middle and eventually fled to the States.  These days Janka Nabay, who lives in Washington, DC, and his Brooklyn based and bred Bubu Gang play potent guitar-synth-and horns afropop based on the bubu beat.  It’s not something you’ve heard before, and it’s a first for the MWMF.         by SK

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