Ahmed Janka Nabay, the Sierra Leonean who took Temne processional songs from the north of Sierra Leone, and turned them into digital pop recordings is releasing his first U.S. record in the form of an EP on True Panther Sounds in the coming weeks. For a background on the music from the man himself, check an interview with Janka done by Straw vs. Gold. He talks about how the music fits into Sierra Leonean history as a music reserved for witches, addresses its recent history being used to lure civilians out of the bush during the civil war, and how he wants to spread messages of peace like Bob Marley.
I've posted on Bubu a couple times at the Ghetto Bassquake blog, and these days the music and Janka are getting a little bit more of attention in the American music press. I'm gladee for that, but this time I have a different motivation for posting than promoting the music. Recently, Janka released an official video for his song "Eh Congo." To me, the most exciting part is that he puts the music back into the context I originally heard it, which is not in Sierra Leone, but a Sierra Leone gathering in the diaspora.
For me it's almost as if through this video this whole thing of musical/self discovery is coming full circle. My experience as an African was growing up in a community of Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora. This video shows family gatherings, community gatherings in banquet halls and living rooms that look very familiar, reflecting my experiences and identity. With all the negative attention given to Sierra Leone's civil war through "Blood Diamond" songs and movies, it is exciting to see my culture reflected positively in American popular consciousness.
As I get older I realize how defined I am by the experience of growing up in a diaspora community. It really shows me how culture is transferred, and what culture is in the first place. Immigrant and diaspora communities all over the world set up shop in metropolitan areas and express their culture often only in the safety of their own homes. The following (less glitzy) video is the first place I found Bubu music, apart from that gathering, after frantically searching for it on Youtube.
The subject of African diaspora communities in the U.S. has been gaining more attention in the mainstream press through another community of Africans going through somewhat of an identity crisis. Somali-Americans in Minneapolis have been facing problems of rising gang affiliation, and some young men from the central Minneapolis community going back to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab. Somalians back home are facing negative attention with talk of piracy and Al Qaeda connections. With all the negative attention it's not hard to find instances of xenophobia against the community, but for all the negative things you find on Somalia and Somalian people there are plenty of instances of inspiring positive stories. To me the diversity that Minneapolis' large African community brings is probably its most endearing feature. I hope that these glimpses into our communities that people like Janka Nabay, or Somali-Canadian rapper K'naan provide, will motivate people to "Lek we Culture", explore a little more, learn something, and not be afraid.