If Afrobeat had been created right now rather than in the 1970’s, it probably would have shared many similarities with Janka Nabay’s Build Music, despite the fact that Nabay hails from Sierra Leone while Afrobeat originally came from Nigeria. Both Nabay’s take on Bubu music – an ancient style of indigenous Sierra Leonean music – and Afrobeat meld the old and the new, combining the traditional music of their homelands with contemporary forms of Western music to create unique and dazzling hybrid styles deserving of their own genre. And in much the same way that Afrobeat, being a product of the 1970s, fused traditional Nigerian styles with the kind of drawn-out, hypnotic funk popularised by people like James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic, Janka Nabay has embraced the music existing around him right now, blending a clutch of contemporary dance music styles with traditional Bubu music to create a full-on mash-up.
Acting more as a mixologist than a player of any one single instrument, Nabay has utilised layered drum machines, sampled drums, real drums, hand percussion, chunky Casio keyboards, old-school samplers, synths and keys both old and new, live bass and chiming guitar, traditional Bubu instruments, and a choir’s worth of voices singing in four different languages, and created an album reflective of hip-hop culture and postmodernism, of cut-and-paste and hyperrealism, of the strangeness and pace of modern life.
It’s almost impossible to break Build Music down song-by-song – Nabay constantly deconstructs the Western genres he utilises as he’s utilising them, and incessantly recombines them with elements of traditional Bubu. Within a single song, we might hear elements of funk, hip-hop, electro-funk, synth-pop, major-key Afro-pop ala Paul Simon’s Graceland, and EDM. These elements might play a major role, contributing to the backbone of the song, or they might just occur as a fleeting moment. Sometimes they’re turned inside out – a sampler might incorporate traditional Bubu drums, which are looped in the creation of an electro-funk beat. Sometimes they’re played as straight as could be, providing a framework for an aural tapestry of cut-up African-music soundscapes. And all the while, the elements of traditional Bubu create a kind-of continuity of rhythms, melodies and chants.
And then there’s Nabay’s production method…
Some songs are straight out ‘live,’ a whip-crack band jamming out a solid groove as hard as they can beneath call-and-response vocals. Some are purely ‘studio’ affairs, built entirely of samples. Some are like a form of live EDM, electronic drums, samplers and layers of synths playing alongside ‘real’ drums, bass and guitars. Some of tinny sketches originally recorded on an iphone, that blossom into off-its-head dance music. And some songs incorporate all these production methods, and more.
Build Music isn’t your typical example of “global grooves.” There are no blandly safe and inoffensive beats underpinning an over-produced version of traditional music. Instead, it’s a full-blown re-imaging of the Sierra Leonean music that came before it and the contemporary Western music that surrounds it. It’s also incredible, a joyous and infectious affair that makes you smile, just in case so far it’s all sounding as if it’s purely for the chin-strokers.
I’ll call it now: The best world music album of the year. Perhaps even the best album album.