Janka Nabay introduces students to an interactive concert


Photo by Kate Parsons

“This music is 500 years old,” said Janka Nabay, formerly of Sierra Leone. “But nobody plays this music on electric instruments!”

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang played to close Africa week, throughout which Calvin had hosted seminars and events about African studies and culture. Janka’s music uses contemporary instruments to bring traditional “bubu music” to a wider audience.

“One big thing about Janka Nabay’s music is the physical response you have to it,” said Ken Heffner, director of the students activities office. “It’s dance music!”

This emphasis on movement could also be seen in the opening act, the Thrive refugee choir. The group of Congolese men, women and children sang in their traditional style, dancing onstage with an infectious joy.

“We sing by dance!” the leader said. Children ran into the audience and dragged people onto the dance floor.

It might be easy to critique the concert by the standards many of us are familiar with. The drums overpowered the vocals. The singers were not exactly in sync. To one unfamiliar with Bubu music and ignorant of the native languages, it sounded repetitive.

But this concert was not simply about musical perfection. Students clapped and hummed, and were asked to come onto the stage to dance. It was an interactive concert experience that focused on the way song, dance and music came together to create one way of sharing a message.

Rather than having the audience sit and be passively entertained by a performance, Janka Nabay encouraged movement and involvement. Bubu music requires the audience to be a part of it. The music is for sharing.

Sadly, there were few students in attendance to share the experience — something too common with unfamiliar bands.

Heffner encourages students to see shows even in styles with which they are unfamiliar.

“Our goal is for students to hear all sorts of music by many different artists,” he said. “Don’t just go to artists you already know. That’s like reading a novel you’ve already read.”

The ability to experience a wide variety of different genres and world music is part of what makes Calvin special. The activities office doesn’t just book who is currently popular. This gives students the opportunity to sample other cultures and to expand our category of what constitutes “good music.”

“I think it’s hard for a lot of Calvin students to appreciate diversity outside of the classroom context,” said sophomore Kelsey Veldkamp. “Seeing that in a classroom is one thing, but being involved with people and dancing with them feels completely different. And it’s a lot more fun!”

The students in attendance agreed. Swarming down from the seats and dancing in front of the stage, there was nothing but smiles as they twisted their hands above their heads and moved to the beat of the drum.

So when the next unfamiliar group comes to Calvin? “Take a chance,” advised Heffner. “You might be introduced to a whole other world.”