28 Jan 2017

Sinkane: the mythology behind the music

From RNZ Music, 3:00 pm on 28 January 2017
Ahmed Gallab of Sinkane

Ahmed Gallab of Sinkane Photo: Adam Tetzloff

It's not unusual for Kayne West to proclaim the power of his influence, as he once said to the New York Times: “I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.” However in the case of Ahmed Gallab’s musical entity, Sinkane, Kanye West’s album The College Dropout, had more than a profound effect,

“There is a lyric that he says in “Never Let Me Down”, “I’m trying to get us free like Cinque”. I misheard it as Sinkane. [I thought] he must be talking about this monolithic African god that influenced the entire continent of Africa and his story was passed down through folklore from one generation to the next and he came to America through the slave trade, and immortalised in these African-American studies classes in College." But it turned out that Kanye was rapping about Joseph Cinque, who led a revolt against slave traders in the 19th Century.

And so, Sinkane, the imaginary mythical character became the entity that Ahmed channeled his broad and plentiful musical styles into.  His band Sinkane formed the backbone of Atomic Bomb!, the touring musical show that performed the back catalogue of cult Nigerian synth maestro William Onyeabor, as Ahmed was the Musical Director of the project, which boasted talent such as David Byrne, Damon Albarn, Hot Chip, Amadou and Mariam and many more.

Sinkane somewhat remained on the backburner as Ahmed was a touring band member for Caribou, Yeasayer, Of Montreal. This experience was invaluable, giving him an insight into how he would lead a band, and which he’s put into practice when making his latest release Life and Living It.

It only took two weeks for New York-based Ahmed to recorded his sixth album at Sonic Ranch Studios in El Paso, Texas. “It helped to focus and not be distracted by New York City life.  I wanted to be super-focused with my band in an environment that didn’t have any distraction. Going to El Paso, gave us that opportunity. It really, really far away from anything.”

The resulting album is the most well-realised and coherent of Ahmed’s releases. Life and Living It fuses Sudanese syncopation with the US dance rock sensibilities that’s been the mainstay of his musical career.

“I’m a part of both cultures.It’s kinda funny too because... I’m just American enough to not feel Sudanese and I’m Sudanese enough to feel like I’m not American.”

The current climate of US politics does not weigh heavily on Ahmed, even though he’s the son of a politically exiled Sudanese journalist.

It’s just the current state of the world. The struggle isn’t new. It’s important for me to be as positive as possible and create a space for people to come among this turmoil...There’s strength in numbers and I feel like if you build that community people will come...My main aim with Sinkane is to connect with people.

Music details

Artist: Kayne West
Song: Never Let Me Down Feat. Jay-Z and J. Ivy
Album: The College Dropout
Label: Rockafella

Artist: Sinkane
Songs: Theme from Life and Living It, Fire
Composer: Ahmed Gallab
Album: Life and Living It
Label: DFA