Ahmed Janka Nabay, the Sierra Leonean dance musician known for bringing a modern take on West African bubu music to an international stage, has passed away. Representatives for his label, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop Records, confirmed the news on Monday. No official cause of death has been announced. He was 54.
Nabay became a star in his native country for popularizing bubu music, a form of folk and religious music played by the Temne people, by adding electronic instrumentation like synthesizers and drum machines to the traditional bamboo flutes and metal pipes. During the Sierra Leone Civil War in the mid-’90s, Janka became the first musician to record bubu music, and in 2003, shortly after the war ended, he came to America.
After working odd jobs in Philadelphia for a number of years — we actually interviewed him for our early Quit Your Day Job column — Janka moved to New York City, and in 2010, he released the Bubu King EP via True Panther. He soon formed a full band, the Bubu Gang, with local New York musicians and signed to Luaka Bop, where he released the album En Yay Sah and an EP called An Letah in 2012. His last album, Build Music, came out just last year.