Bands and music fans from around the world converge at SXSW

The World

This year’s SXSW festival brought in nearly 25,000 attendees to the film, music and interactive conferences.

With growing popularity, SXSW has become an attractive destination for bands hoping to break big. The music portion of the conference ran the second week of SXSW.

There were about 50 official music events happening at any given moment, and many more unofficial shows. To be at SXSW is to know you’re missing out on a lot of good music. Fortunately the music you do see makes up for the difference. And sometimes the best music is a surprise.

Some of this year’s unexpected showcases included Chilean singer Kali Mutsa, Kenya’s Sauti Sol,and GlobalFest headliner Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang.

Janka Nabay, known throughtout Sierra Leone as the “king of Bubu,” a high energy musical form traditionally played with bamboo cane flutes and metal pipes, was just beginning to find success in the early 1990s as Sierra Leone descened into a devastating civil war.

Two years into the unrest, Nabay was named Sierra Leone’s “artist of the year,” and his debut record won “album of the year.” Nabay’s popularity grew through a black market in bootlegged cassettes. At one point, Nabay’s fame came to the attention of rebel leader Sam Boackarie, who invited Nabay to play for him and subsequently held him in captivity for 17 days.

“We played at around 4 o’clock in the morning and I just see people around me with guns,” Nabay said. “I was scared to death.”

Nabay was able to get away, and several years later he moved to the U.S. In New York, Nabay connected with a group of Brooklyn-based indie-rock musicians who were eager to learn bubu music. Together, they formed Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang.

“I don’t think nothing will take me out of this,” said Nabay. “All I know is music, I will play music until my last breath, I believe that.”

Mike Gallope, the Bubu Gang’s keyboardist, said the band has been having trouble securing immigration papers for Nabay in advance of a European tour.

“We’re in the midst of trying to secure a green card for Janka to have a pathway to citizenship for him, but more immediately to be able to go to Europe this summer,” Gallope said. “I think we’ve hit a bit of a delay, so if there’s anyone out there who’s heard Janka’s story and can help us expedite things, we’d be eternally grateful.”

Several other high energy performers included the Israeli culture-clashers Balkan Beat-Box, Taiwanese punk-rock group The White Eyes, and the festival’s reigning “prom queen” Santigold.

Even outside the venues, literally on the street, good music could be found. Take Grupo Canalon, who played traditional Afro-Colombian roots music — with lots of percussion, a marimba, and a Capella vocals — on a street corner. They hail from the town of Timbiqui in Colombia.

Even the hipsters on 6th Street couldn’t resist the urge to dance.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.