Sinkane is the band of Ahmed Gallab, a Sudanese singer/songwriter whose soulful sound is rooted in the music of sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014, he released ‘Mean Love’ on City Slang. The critical acclaim this debut garnered was proof that his songwriting ability, cleverly weaving the music of his heritage into his percussive-focussed, melodically catchy tunes, resonated with music fans all over the world. This week, he releases the follow-up to ‘Mean Love’, ‘Life & Livin’ It’, driven by a powerful message of optimism, a perfect, positive way to confront the political and social upheavals we’re currently experiencing.
Was Sinkane prescient? We’ll never know, but at the very least, this LP should be taken as a fun set of tunes that will keep your toes tapping. ‘Telephone’, revealed shortly after the new year, is a disco banger to rival any of Donna Summer’s. A drubbing of a former lover attempting a booty call isn’t exactly philosophical. Later track ‘Won’t Follow’ is Gallab’s resolve that he won’t trail behind a woman who’s walked out of his life. Goodbye, and good riddance. ‘Passenger’, driven by Afrobeats and laden down with bright horn lines, is less about the words than the euphoric crescendo of sound that mimics the freedom of finding your own way, “’cos if I don’t take control / I might never make it home”.
I should probably take a step back and explain where this Sinkane album came from, produced by Gallab himself and with lyrics and help with longtime collaborator Greg Lofaro. In the intervening time between ‘Mean Love’ and the making of this new album, Gallab toured with his band as the Sinkane live experience, playing 166 shows in 20 countries. He also led The Atomic Bomb Band, a 15-strong supergroup with David Byrne, Damon Albarn and a host of other famed musicians. Taken together, the experiences as Sinkane and in his opportunity fronting a major supergroup changed Gallab’s life, guiding him towards ideas for a new record: to recount the ups and downs of a life worth lived, and lived well. On early LP taster ‘U’Huh’ unveiled last autumn, Gallab sings the uplifting verse, “to my sisters who ache / my brothers losing strength / we don’t need to be saved / we’ll make our own way.“ The chorus includes the Arabic phrase “Kulu shi tamaam!”, which roughly translates to “everything is okay!” It’s a reminder that even when you’re down and out, one day you’re going to dust yourself off and get back up.
On ‘Fire’, Gallab goes between a more usual singing voice to a beauteous falsetto and then back again. The pensive words “when I only know what I’m told, I don’t understand, oh no, at all myself”, preceded by “fire / take me higher / but don’t take me away / where I stay”, suggest the Sinkane stand that to truly be part of society, you can’t just sit there passively. You have to be taken into the whirlwind and experience life, in a way that enriches you but without losing who you are.
The album closes ‘The Way’, a wonderful showcasing of Gallab’s vocal range, framed by horns. “There’s a road inside of us / we need maps made of love / the truth lies in each of us / we need signs we can trust”, sings Gallab, stunningly capturing the human condition: the conflicts in each of us that also lead to dramatic realisations about life and the world around us. While the philosophical conclusions Gallab proffers on ‘Life and Livin’ It’ will likely go over most listeners’ heads, the Sinkane project should be given full marks in tackling weightier topics about the meaning of life not usually found on pop records. One further, he manages to back these philosophical statements with infectious rhythms ensuring Sinkane will be the life of the party.
‘Life and Livin’ It’, the new album from Sinkane, will be out on the 10th of February on City Slang. To read more on Sinkane on TGTF, go here.