Sierra Leonean vocalist and songwriter Janka Nabay and his Bubu Gang play a massively hybridized form of traditional bubu, an ancient ceremonial folk music indigenous to Nabay's country that predates Islam. Nabay was an established musician at home, a rock star who sold tens of thousands of records. After he fled his war-ravaged nation for the U.S., it took a full decade working menial jobs before he found his way to Brooklyn and formed this band. Its members come from Skeletons, Zs, Saadi, Chairlift, and Highlife. En Yay Sah is their full-length debut on Luaka Bop. While traditional bubu is played on bamboo flutes, metal pipes, and percussion instruments, Nabay's brand is pure 21st century dance music. Using electric guitar, keyboards, percussion (organic and synthetic), and electric bass, Nabay's voice and Boshra Al Saadi's backing vocals provide a constant, frenetic call-and-response pulse that adds a layer of rhythm (to an orgy of it already) as well as melody in these eight songs. The instrumental mix is a collision of intensely percussive, groove-laden rhythms that is as celebratory as it is urgent, infectious, and hypnotic. Rhythms and polyrhythms step toward and rub against each other; squiggly synth sounds contrast with those that emulate flutes, organs, and other instruments. Intricate guitar lines create waves of melody and lush harmonies, and the bassline pushes everything toward 11. Afro-beat this ain't. One need go no further than the opener, a rave-up party anthem called "Feba," for evidence. While Nabay sings in English propelled and answered by the keyboard/flute sounds, tidal waves of polyrhythms underscore and push against the bassline that thrums right back. Saadi answers his chant, repeatedly, before Doug Shaw's guitar swoops in over the top for a brief break that sounds like another tune trying to break through "Feba"'s body. The more extended workouts -- such as "Ro Lungi" and "Somebody," with their overdriven dubby basslines, synthetic handclaps, dubbed-out guitar lines, and singsong melodies -- highlight the fact that this music, despite its cultural heritage, has been made over and is utterly new. "Kill Me with Bongo" contains a careening guitar vamp and hyper hand drums and loops, while featuring nasty analog synth that creates a Kraftwerk-on-meth feel. It's a club hit waiting to happen and ripe for numerous remix treatments. En Yay Sah is easily the most auspicious -- and original -- debut album of 2012.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek