EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: 5 MINUTES WITH SINKANE’S AHMED GALLAB
(Words by our Music Editor Natalie Wardle.)
The London-born, Brooklyn-based Sudanese frontman of Sinkane – Ahmed Gallab has been an enigmatic force in world music over the last decade. His American band, DFA’s Sinkane have gained a loyal following of fans in Europe thanks to their relentless touring, and Gallab’s various musical incarnations. So while he stopped off in town, we managed to catch-up with him over some quaint Breakfast tea at the B.F.I, before he cut loose to make a mad dash to his next dj set… prior to heading back to the states in preparation for his latest tour. In response to being asked whether this was stressful, Gallab said (which has rather become a trademark phrase of his) “I like to be on the move.”
Here we discussed his latest single ‘Uh-Huh’, his admiration for Pink Floyd, Ethiopian pop and seventies Nigerian afro-rock. As well as the delicate subject of adjusting to living in post-Trump America as a Muslim and the importance of spreading Bob Marley’s positive message of hope amongst other things…
You are well known for your eclectic blend of Krautrock, free jazz, Ethiopian funk and Sudanese pop. Do you think your varied background (being of Sudanese heritage) and growing up between the U.K and the U.S.A played a part in this?
I was born here yeah. Oh absolutely, I mean I never lived anywhere for longer than four years until I graduated from university. I became accustomed to moving around alot… and what that ended up doing was, it allowed me to experience the world with an open mind. And I was able to see how other kids were experiencing growing up, and listen to different people’s opinion of music culture – and you know the world. And it really helped to develop my musical identity as a musician. You know as an artist, you write what you know, and you create a world you see in front of you, and erm the world I saw in front of me was really colourful, and very multi-cultural… and very dynamic.
How did you first get signed to DFA Records?
DFA approached me after I posted a song on the internet – on Bandcamp. I just finished playing with another band, and it was time for me to do something different you know erm and… they were doing their own thing and I decided to get back to my project, and I released a song called ‘Runnin,’ and er my friend Dan Snake did a remix for me and I posted it on the internet, and it got a lot attention and DFA came calling… and I really didn’t ever, EVER expect a label like that to be interested in my music. I thought they were so specific to like a certain type of dance music or something. But er Jonathan Galkin came at me and he was really excited, ad he said he needed to play the record for James in order to get his approval, and he really liked it… and the rest is history.
Sinkane – Runnin’ (Official Video)
This album is not on DFA though, it’s on City Slang.
You previously mentioned your admiration for artists like Radiohead and Sade. Who else do you think has been a big influence on your sound?
Oh man, there’s been so many! Erm funkadelic has been a really big influence. And a lot of Sudanese east African, a lot of stuff from Ethiopia has been a really big influence.
Any Ethiopian artists that particularly stand out for you?
Mulatu Astatke, the Godfather of Ethiopian Jazz, has been a huge influence on me, and you know a lot of classic rock. Pink Floyd obviously, The Cure, and big rock bands. Erm yeah mainly a lot of American soul bands, a-lot of Jamaican groups – The Congos are a really big influence, Bob Marley obviously a really big influence, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby – all of them. There’s actually a British band called Cymande who’s one of my biggest, biggest influences. We were actually able to play with them when they did a reunion tour in the U.S last summer – which was really nice! Also afro-rock and Nigerian – sorry there’s a lot! I could go all over the place!
Cymande – Brothers On The Slide
Is it true the band had not been playing live previous to ‘Mars’?
No I sort of had two different incarnations of the band before that. I actually released two records before Mars. But I really wasn’t taking it as seriously as I did when I released Mars, an erm the image and the idea of the band was still kinda influx an I was experiencing a lot. An I think with Mars I had a really big breakthrough. I was really inspired by bands in Nigeria in the 70s. Afro rock bands, and it really helped me shape the idea of the band and when I came to making a live show around that time, I was really re-focused and I think I created something that has now become the idea, you know the main image of the group.
You’ve almost got your own distinct genre now… you know, blended together.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah (nods head emphatically)
Would you say your songwriting has become more personal or politically charged over time? Maybe not directly… but more indirectly? It is quite a strong message you seem to be conveying…
Yeah I think definitely more personal. Directly personal. I wanted to do two things, write about experiences and have fun in the process. I wanted to write about subject matter,things that were interesting and were very cathartic to write about the more I write the closer I get. I spent a lot of time thinking about my experiences as a child… as a Sudanese American, an American in Sudan, being a touring musician and religion.
Tell us about the meaning behind your new track “U’Huh”, from new record ‘Life & Livin’ It,’ and what your experience of making the album was like? And what sort of political themes and were messages were you communicating with this latest release?
That song has a pretty strong political statement. I guess you know in 2016 it became kinda unavoidable not to speak about politics. What’s going on in this day an age, in music it became kinda a pretty important topic a lot of people like Kendrick Lamar and Solange, Kanye West… a lot of people are talking about it. You know and I always avoided being political (before), but I felt I had something to say and that is was a unique perspective from what other people are saying you know? Different to what others are saying, usually people wanna speak about politics in music they respond in an angry and intense way. But there are other people that don’t do that. Like specifically thinking of Bob Marley. Their response to terrible situations happening in the world is to promote a positive message and offer positive support, and create a support network to make people feel safe and happy. To understand just because there are terrible things happening in the world, you can still enjoy life! And can have a happy life and that’s what I wanted to do with that song and express that just because times are tough terrible times and there are terrible things happening in world… It’s always been like that, but it’s okay if we stick together, things will be alright! Positive mental attitude helps in a positive way.
There’s also a distinct nod to American soul and blues within the video and track, do you agree?
Yeah absolutely I wanted to convey the message of universality. I wanted to show that times are tough right now, but If you see this image of a throwback situation you understand that it is always happening throughout history. It’s always been around and the setting could be anywhere. Where we’re playing, it could be South America, Europe, United States. It could be anywhere. It’s something we can all relate to.
Impressively you are now on your sixth album. Do you have any plans for future collaborations or changes in creative direction?
Um yeah, I talk a-lot to my friends about stuff. I have a lot of good friends like the Odyessy (who’s a rapper). We talk a lot about doing things together. Pretty sure things will happen as a musician you just wanna figure out ways to challenge yourself and make you better. And the more I make music the more excited I am to make more music. We’ll see, I’m kinda taking one step at a time right now. I’m really excited about this album. I’m interested to see where it gets me.
Aside from you releasing your album in February, what else can we expect from you in 2017?
Really just playing live, spreading the message far and wide to as many people as possible, make new friends. Catch-up with old ones. An hopefully be a beacon of hope amongst this terrible international climate. You know, we’ll see i’m excited.
Do think it’s gonna be an interesting time playing in America now trumps in power playing around the outskirts? Have you played all over america before?
Yeah Change has already happened I mean the support for Trump in the United States is very apparent , and people are very proud to show everybody their supposed it’s unfortunate that his successful presidential bid has spawned a bunch of really terrible racism an Islam-phobic situation you know had a few friends that have had to deal with that, i think it’s something that we’re gonna have to live with and fight against hopefully we can change people’s mind with this music and also That. create safe place for people that are like us to know they can come to a Sinkane show and be around among people that are like minded or that they can meet new people and convert them. You know. None of us know what’s gonna happen tomorrow I dunno I’m still optimistic i have a lot of hope i’m not gonna let this situation with Trump ruin my happiness. hopefully change people’s minds with this music and create a safe place, or being among people that are like-minded, or meet people and convert them. I’m still optimistic.
“U’Huh”, from new record ‘Life & Livin’ It’, out on 10 Feb 2017 on City Slang worldwide. Pre-order here.
Sinkane – U’Huh (Official Video)
Sinkane – Warm Spell (Official Video)