Sudan’s soul-child

by Ryan Snyder


There’s an undeniable worldliness to Ahmed Gallab’s music, but just don’t call it World Music. The Sudanese-born multi-instrumentalist is already a veteran of indie giants Of Montreal, Yeasayer and Caribou, but it is his band Sinkane’s sterling DFA Records debut Mars that is opening the door to his own story. His own nomadic existence — uprooted from Sudan as a boy for Columbus, Ohio before ultimately landing in New York City — is an adequate backdrop for understanding the poly-ethnic post-funk of Mars; he’s cut his teeth on New York psychedelia, but his African roots remain strong.

Y!W: I can’t even begin to tell you how much more enjoyable Mars become after finding out that you played all of the instruments on it. Was there one that you typically focus on as the compositional center when you’re writing?

AG: I’m a drummer first and foremost; I fill the melodies with my voice and then from that point on, I’m really into the drum. The groove is really important when I’m making important music, so most of it happens on the drums and bass. I really started to like the bass a lot; it’s just an extension of the groove, just another percussion element.

Y!W: The name ‘Sinkane’ as a reference to Joseph Cinque seems at least a little peculiar given that he’s west African whereas you’re of North African descent. Is your philosophy closer to Pan-Africanism?

AG: ‘Sinkane’ the word is actually a word that I misheard in a Kanye West song that was referencing Joseph Cinque until I found out they were talking about this African god, this folk hero that had been told about through generations and generations of African folklore. It’s a mondregreen. SinkaneRa is sort of an ode to Sun Ra and my obsession with the beauty of his music and his spirit.

Y!W: And then on Twitter you pay homage to Soulja Boy.

AG: Yeah, Sinkane Tell ‘Em, that’s another ode.

Y!W: There’s a compilation of African disco music that’s coming out on Record Store Day and after hearing some of the tracks, the influence of that style on your music seems evident.

AG: I don’t think it was necessarily played in my house while I was a kid. A lot of the African music that was playing in my house was traditional Sudanese music, either religious or secular. I liked Miriam Makeba a lot. When I was around 22 or 23, I went back and started listening to a lot of African music again. I got really into psychedelic music from Zambia, a lot of Zamrock like Chrissy “Zebby” Tembo, Amanaz or WITCH, all of Soundboy’s comps.

Y!W: I know you’re rather adverse to the catch-all label world music and rightfully so. What’s your plan to educate listeners, and maybe more importantly, promoters, on the nuances of non- Western music?

AG: I don’t think it’s important to educate the listeners, I think it’s more important to educate the journalists. The journalists are the ones who create the genres and set the parameters to people. The listener only has the problem of listening and enjoying, but it’s only the journalist who tells them that it is “this thing.” What we’re doing is just enjoying ourselves and doing the best that we can, and hope that our spirit is represented accurately. It’s more important to tell journalists to stop labeling things and kind of bastardizing very different, beautiful music from all around the world. There’s a lot of beautiful music out there. It’s happening all the time and now that we have the internet, it’s even more so because people have the opportunity to hear anything. Some random kid in Indonesia could write a song and it could be the most unique song, and you could hear it today. It is incredibly overwhelming, but what I hope it does is break down these parameters that have been shoved upon you by other people.

Y!W: That DFA seems like the most natural fit for a guy of your tastes, outside of maybe Stone’s Throw or Ubiquity. Maybe you could say they’re the more progressive of the three.

AG: It was completely by happenstance, but it happened. I didn’t expect it to happen, but they reached out to me and I really respect the fact that they are totally supportive of what I’m doing. Stone’s Throw was an option actually, but I’m really glad that I went with DFA.

Y!W: Playing in bands like Of Montreal or Caribou almost seems like a performance-arts internship. Between Dan Snaith and Kevin Barnes, everything there is to know about making music is probably known.

AG: There’s no way to discount the musicianship and really understanding how to play music in those bands. They’re all very cerebral in the way that they make music, and it’s even more put upon a person like me who will try to learn and understand how that music was made initially and all the soul of it really. The performance-art aspect of it is easy, because anyone can put on a wig and get on stage, but the actual performance is so important. I learned a lot about myself and how to make music, to own it and really take something that’s in my head and manifest it into something meaningful.

Sinkane will perform at the Blind Tiger on Thursday, March 22.