A desire to express himself musically, an exploration of his musical roots and a visit to his family in Sudan led Ahmed Gallab to create Sinkane and root the identity of the musical project in his own Sudanese background.
“When I played music before Sinkane I was always in a band and it was about the identity of the band….We were all playing together and making music together,” Gallab said. “And when it came time for me to do Sinkane it was just me. It really made me think about who I am and what am I trying to do here and how am I expressing myself.”
Gallab’s introspection led him to realize that he “intuitively or subconsciously” was writing music that sounded Sudanese. “When it did sound Sudanese, I would feel happy,” Gallab said. “I was like oh, this is something that I like. I want to continue writing music like this, so it drew me to my Sudanese identity a bit more.”
This self-searching was buoyed by a 2006 trip to Gallab’s extended family in Sudan, where he was much more conscious of the importance of his roots than he had been when he was younger.
He was 24 then. What followed was a succession of albums over the last eight years that borrow from his well of musical influences to create sounds that are truly unique. The genre-defying music borrows sounds from all over the world and seamlessly melds them so that you can’t quite tell where they’re coming from.
“I think the seamlessness comes from experience,” Gallab said. “I think it comes from me traveling all over the world and hearing different kinds of music and experiencing it and also being able to relate them together. When I heard reggae music and I heard country music I really dug into those musics and I realized that at their core they have the same energy.”
Now the 32-year-old Brooklynite and his musical project are wrapping up a tour to support his most recent album, Mean Love, which was released on September 2014 with DFA Records. Sinkane is playing at Black Cat in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 25.
When Gallab and his longtime friend and writing partner Greg Lofaro started working on Mean Love, they decided that they didn’t want to write typical love songs. “I told him that I really liked the idea of writing about personal themes like love, nostalgia and stuff like that, but I was kinda tired of the same type of love song because everyone writes those,” Gallab said.
“I said ‘What if we wrote a record about personal things that we’re dealing with,’ and sort of existential ideas. Maybe we can reappropriate love….So the album’s title track “Mean Love” is sort of about the relationship I have with myself and how it’s sort of similiar to a relationship you have with a significant other.”
One of the standout tracks on the album is “Son,” where Gallab gets candid about his relationship with his father. Gallab said that Lofaro challenged him to write something other than the “bittersweet” love song that he originally proposed.
“He said that’s the easiest thing you could do. We should make it more personal so that you can talk about something you can actually feel and really emote,” Gallab said.
“I’ve had an interesting relationship with my father because I grew up in a completely different environment and culture than him. Him and I, it took a long time for us to learn how to communicate with each other. We’re totally fine now, but it took a long time for me to learn how to talk to him.
“I didn’t know how to do that. So it was important for me to use that song as a sort of catharsis and purge these emotions and feelings and I think it really helped out a lot.”
• For more information about Sinkane, visit sinkane.com.