- Courtesy Of Adam Tetzloff
- Ahmed Gallab
Just before Ahmed Gallab released his third studio album as Sinkane, he lost one of his biggest influences: Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor. Known for a prolific string of albums in the late '70s and '80s, Onyeabor passed away in January — about a month before Life & Livin' It dropped. A few years back, Gallab directed a traveling concert tribute to Onyeabor, featuring a supergroup of famous rock stars including David Byrne and Damon Albarn.
Gallab, 33, now calls Brooklyn home, but he originally hails from Sudan. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 5 years old, first settling in Provo, Utah, and eventually Columbus, Ohio. Just weeks before the release of Life & Livin' It, President Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively banning travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations — including Sudan.
But, as the new album affirms, tragedy and injustice only strengthen Gallab's resolve. The psychedelic, avant-funk musician, who previously played in indie bands Of Montréal, Yeasayer and Caribou, showcases his positive outlook on tracks such "U'huh," in which he proclaims, "Well, I'm the first to say / It's all gonna be all right."
Sinkane performs on Friday, November 17, at ArtsRiot in Burlington, with support from Bassel & the Supernaturals and Nat Baldwin. Seven Days recently caught up with Gallab by phone.
SEVEN DAYS: Given that Life & Livin' It is largely about joy, how have you been able to find joy in the past year?
AHMED GALLAB: To be honest, all of the negative energy and bullshit that's been in the news has given me joy. It's given me an opportunity to speak my voice and to show the world who I am and what Sinkane is.
When I started writing the album, I wasn't necessarily thinking about the political climate. I was thinking about my personal experience and all of the things that I've dealt with as an African American, as a Sudanese American, as an immigrant [and] as a Muslim. There have been a lot of dark experiences within all of that. But I've always looked on the brighter side and tried to figure out how I could change any dark situation into a positive one.
After Trump was elected and the whole Muslim ban happened, I thought to myself, I am in a band that represents the United States in the most honest way possible. We are a colorful band. We're a diverse group of people [who] come from different walks of life. We're here together because we connect through the spirit of the music that I make.
SD: You've spoken about how it took you six years to complete the opening track, "Deadweight." What was going on in your life when you started writing it?
AG: I had just moved to New York [after exiting] the band Of Montréal. I kind of got out of a really tough situation with that band. And I haven't really talked about that at all. I'm so grateful to have played with them, but I left that experience totally drained and completely sad.
I was more or less let go from that band for some weird interpersonal reasons that had nothing to do with me. It threw me into a very strange headspace. I was in this kind of existential crisis: Was I not good enough? Did I not do what they wanted me to do? It just kind of fucked with me.
[The song] came out very honestly, and when I heard it, I was freaked out. I didn't want to show the world how vulnerable I [was]. I wasn't ready for it. It took Greg Lofaro, my songwriting partner, pleading and pushing me, saying, "You have something to say. You have to overcome the situation."
After releasing Mars and Mean Love and doing the Onyeabor project, I felt ready to come back to that song and revisit my emotions. I realized that it's OK to showcase how vulnerable I am.
SD: Did the collaborative process of writing and recording Life & Livin' It open up anything new for your live performance?
AG: Oh, absolutely. I let go of a lot of control in the writing process. Instead of taking my demos straight to the studio, I opened it up to the band, and we held rehearsals for a month before we went into the studio. And in that time, if anyone had any ideas to change anything or make anything better, I was open to that.
When we got out of the studio and started touring, we knew the music so well that it was very easy to play. And it led to us opening up the songs and jamming out a bit more. The songs on the record are just the beginning. That's why we put out a live EP: because I wanted to showcase how the songs have evolved.
SD: You have roots in Columbus' DIY scene. What kinds of things were you putting together back then?
AG: I was in a bunch of bands: a hardcore band, an artsy electronic band, a screamo band. I'd throw my own shows and help my friends when they were coming into town on tour. We had this monthly calendar called Columbus Sucks Because You Suck. We'd all come together once a month and give our [show info] to one person, who would put the poster together. I learned everything that I know from that period.
SD: What's something that you think is important in keeping a DIY scene thriving?
AG: It's really hard to keep a DIY community up and going. There has to be one person who just wants to take on all of the work — not for any other reason than the sheer satisfaction. I go back to Columbus, and there's still a show calendar at all the record stores. Maybe there are two shows a month, but there's still a calendar.
SD: What's up with your pre-Mars albums? They seem a little hard to find.
AG: I actually have them on sale at our [shows]. This label from Missouri called Emergency Umbrella released the first two proper records, Color Voice and the self-titled. It's gone belly-up, so there's no distribution for it. I have all the records now. Soon enough I'll put them back on the internet, but I needed to transition ownership of the music. It's been a bit of a process.
SD: So people can just roll the dice and pick up those records at your show, sound unheard.
AG: Yup. And they're pretty good. They're a lot different from Mars, Mean Love and Life & Livin' It. To me, the evolution of the band is very natural and organic. If you start from the beginning, you'll see that clearly. The songs are less structured and more ambient. You can kind of see how I've refined all of these influences into what now exists.
With every record, there's more structure. The first record that I properly released is 10 years old. And there's a record before that called Sinisterals. It was a CD-R. I have it on my computer. I don't even think anyone would be interested if I released it. It's like 20 minutes of drone music.
SD: Maybe you could get NNA Tapes to reissue it.
AG: That might be cool. Are they in Burlington?
SD: They are. Drone stuff is their bread and butter.