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'Silent Spring' At 50; Confessions from English Learners; Janka Nabay Brings Bubu to Brooklyn

Lt. Col. Philip Effiong, right, acting head of state who announced the formal surrender of Biafra, talks in Owerri, Biafra's last stronghold, to Col. Olusegun Obasanjo, who accepted the field surrender of Biafra's armed forces, Jan. 15, 1970.
Lt. Col. Philip Effiong, right, acting head of state who announced the formal surrender of Biafra, talks in Owerri, Biafra's last stronghold, to Col. Olusegun Obasanjo, who accepted the field surrender of Biafra's armed forces, Jan. 15, 1970.

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

JUNE SIMMS: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I’m June Simms. This week, we play a modern form of traditional West African Islamic music, known as Bubu, from Brooklyn-based musician Janka Nabay.

We also look at some of your confessions…

But first, we talk about “Silent Spring,” the book that launched the environmental movement in America fifty years ago.


Silent Spring: 50 Years Later

JUNE SIMMS: Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson helped launch the modern environmental movement with her book “Silent Spring.” The book warned about the damage that pesticide products were doing to the natural world, including human health. Today, the battle for the environment continues. Shirley Griffith has more.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In the nineteen fifties, the United States Department of Agriculture was using more than two hundred fifty thousand kilograms of pesticides a year. “Silent Spring” warned readers that the chemicals were not only deadly for insects, but for all living things.

Linda Lear wrote a book called “Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.”

LINDA LEAR: “Silent Spring” essentially told the reading public that human beings could alter the natural world in ways that were quite deadly and that could be potentially lethal to human beings as well as to other parts of the natural world.”

More than sixty million copies of “Silent Spring” have been sold in the United States since its publication in nineteen sixty-two. The book is considered one of the most important non-fiction works of modern time. It has been published in thirty languages. And it led to a ban on the pesticide DDT in the United States.

However, Rachel Carson was not without critics. The American agricultural expert, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, led a defense of pesticides after “Silent Spring” was published.

NORMAN BORLAUG: “We’re having troubles now feeding this hungry world. If you remove DDT with the hysteria that is present in the USA, the U.S. will be importing food, only there won’t be anyplace from where to import it.”

The DDT ban in farming went into effect in nineteen seventy-two. But thousands of new chemical products were in development. The United States Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee seeks to control the use of hundreds of chemicals in agriculture and other industries. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey is a committee member.

FRANK LAUTENBERG: “This committee heard from CDC officials who told us their scientists found two hundred and twelve industrial chemicals, including six carcinogens, coursing through Americans’ bodies.”

In two thousand six, the World Health Organization announced plans to use DDT indoors as part of its malaria campaign. The insecticide is very effective against mosquitoes, the carriers of malaria. Cases of the disease rose sharply after developing nations stopped using DDT in the early nineteen eighties.

The company Syngenta is a major producer of agricultural chemicals. It argues, as do others in the industry, that its chemicals are safe if used correctly. Tim Pastoor is Syngenta’s lead scientist.

TIM PASTOOR: “We try and do every single study that is necessary to support the safety characteristics of the product.”

Fifty years after the publication of “Silent Spring,” farmers continue to spray millions of kilograms of pesticides and other chemicals on their crops. And the environmental movement continues to fight against the practice.

Your Confessions

JUNE SIMMS: A few months ago we started a blog at called "Confessions of an English Learner." This blog is for you to share your stories about language misunderstandings, and to laugh, cry and sympathize with other people's stories. Thanks to all of you who have contributed so far, including Adam from Taiwan.

He writes that he was taking a tour with his son in Hawaii. His son had gone to the restroom. The tour guide asked where the boy was, and Adam answered “He is in the toilet.”

In other countries, that answer might have made perfect sense. But in the United States most people would say "he's in the restroom" or "he's in the bathroom." To Americans, a "toilet" is what you find in a restroom rather than the name for the room itself. So you can see why saying that his son was "in the toilet" might have sounded funny.

Michele from France had a funny and maybe somewhat painful story to tell. She was visiting London and the weather was very cold and rainy. She went into an Indian restaurant and ordered a meal. The waiter asked if she wanted it “hot.” She was surprised by the question and said, yes, “very, very hot.”

Michele says after she took her first bite she realized her misunderstanding. The food was very, very spicy. So the lesson there is be careful the next time someone asks if you want your food "hot." It can refer to either the temperature or the flavor.

Some of the English learners on our blog have advice for others. Hassan from Lebanon wrote that his English improved after he started watching movies in English and listening to English music. He advises listening to a song at least three times in a day so that the words stick in your mind.

Keep sharing your stories and your advice at -- click on Confessions of an English Learner. And check out our latest videos at the VOA Learning Channel on YouTube. They come with closed captioning, so you can watch them with or without captions. And -- we think this is really cool -- you can translate the captions into other languages. Try it and tell us what you think.

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang

JUNE SIMMS: Have you ever heard Bubu music? If not, here’s your chance. Christopher Cruise tells us about the new album, "En Yay Sah," by Brooklyn based Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Bubu is a traditional music from Sierra Leone. It has its roots in Islam of West Africa where special religious chants are used during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It also involves wind instruments like bamboo flutes and metal pipes.

Janka Nabay is from Sierra Leone. He fled to the United States during Sierra Leone’s civil war. He settled in the Brooklyn area of New York City.

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang
Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang
Janka Nabay says Bubu music is hundreds of years old. But he has made the sound modern, adding electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and drums. The Bubu Gang players are all local musicians who also perform for other bands.

Among them is Syrian born singer Boshra al-Sahdi. Here she and Nabay sing “Eh Mane Ah,” or “Take This Advice.”


Janka Nabay is popular in Sierra Leone. He sings in the country’s main language, Krio, as well as his own tribal language, Temne, and several others. Nabay says his work has made it pleasant for people to return to their culture and to love it.

Supporters in the Sierra Leonean community in New York were more difficult to find. Nabay sings about that in “Kill Me With Bongo,” from “En Yay Sah.”


Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang have some love songs too. In one, Nabay sings “I need somebody to sit by me, I need somebody kiss me, I need somebody to hold me tight, I need somebody to love me.”


Music critics have mostly praised “En Yay Sah.” Bubu music may not be well known among them but one critic wrote of the album, “the unfamiliar has never been so inviting.”

We leave you now with another song from En Yay Sah.” Here is Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang performing “Feba,” or “Look-Alike”


JUNE SIMMS: I’m June Simms. This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. Zulima Palacio provided additional reporting.

Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.