Bubu music king Janka Nabay is dead

By Aroun Rashid Deen.

As many of us eagerly await the outcome of the Sierra Leone Presidential Run-off with our hearts at the tip of our tongues out of anxiety, we’ve been again slapped on the face with news of the passing of one of the country’s musical geniuses, Ahmed Janka Nabay. Veteran journalist, Umaru Fofana reports that he died today in Kambia district in the north of the country. Janka Nabay reinvented the Bubu music, a very traditional Sierra Leone music genre.


The origin of Bubu is not exactly known. According to a February 16, 2017, Music in Africa article (Bubu in Sierra Leone) by Esther Kamara. https://www.musicinafrica.net/magazine/bubu-sierra-leone, legends have it that a young Bubu musician, “took it from witches 500 years ago and brought it to the public at large, sacrificing his own life in the process. The function of the music was to announce to the devils that ‘they were ready for something.’”

Notwithstanding its origin, Ahmed Janka Nabay redefined Bubu into its modern genre, bringing into it, bits of Caribbean reggae and calypso, Brazilian samba and Dominican merengue and bachata, which are themselves African in origin, to finetune its largely Temne music culture.

Janka Nabay was to a lesser degree, a Sierra Leone version of a Peter Tosh and a Joe Hills blend. He was a friend to many.

May his soul rest in perfect peace


Janka Nabay. Photo by Sydney Schleiff & Oliver Citrin.

Janka Nabay, Pioneer Sierra Leonean Musician, Has Passed Away

News arrived this morning that Janka Nabay, the king of ‘bubu’ music, has passed away.

Celebrated Sierra Leonean musician Janka Nabay has sadly passed away, according to news reports.

OkayAfrica also received word from label, Luaka Bop, about the passing of Janka Nabay, who mentioned that the artist died in Sierra Leone following a short illness. We’re still awaiting further details.

Janka became a star in 1990s Sierra Leone for this updated take on traditional bubu music, which he created by adding electric studio instrumentation to the traditional genre.

He moved to the United States in 2003 and, since then, has released a number of bubu music records alongside the Bubu Gang on labels like True Panther and Luaka Bop. His 2012 album, En Yay Sah, received wide critical acclaim across influential publications like NPR and Pitchfork, and was a heavy favorite at our OkayAfrica offices here.

In his latest album, Build Music, released last year, Janka Nabay payed homaged to his native Sierra Leone.

Build Music is an album that I cherish a lot, because for a long time I don’t make no album,” Janka told Bandcamp at the time. “It’s like trying to build something different because our country doesn’t have a signature trend of music. In Sierra Leone, we played borrowed music—reggae, hip-hop, R&B;—nothing is ours. I tried to build our trend. That’s why I pick the name, Build Music. In Build Music, I’m on a safari to America.”

Last year, Janka Nabay listed his 10 favorite things he loves about Sierra Leone for us, which included his village of Masimora, his favorite soccer team East End Lions and, of course, bubu music.

Revisit Janka’s truly captivating and impressive bubu music sound—play it loud today—and see some reactions from fellow musicians and friends below.


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