Ahmed Gallab, better known by his stage name of Sinkane, is one of the more unique artists in music today. You could trace it back to his background, born to English parents who raised him in Sudan and America, or his work with diverse and eccentric acts such as Caribou, Yeasayer, Of Montreal, and more.
Ahmed Gallab, better known by his stage name of Sinkane, is one of the more unique artists in music today. You could trace it back to his background, born to English parents who raised him in Sudan and America, or his work with diverse and eccentric acts such as Caribou, Yeasayer, Of Montreal, and more. His musical and personal history is definitely reflected in his music, but it’s also nearly impossible to label with a definitive genre. His latest album, Mean Love, released in September by DFA Records, is just as diverse as his past work–even as critics call it his most accessible work to date. It’s clear that Sinkane not only has a lot to offer the music lovers of the world, but that you’re only going to find this music coming from his mind.
Sinkane plays tonight at The Southern Cafe & Music Hall in Charlottesville with Helado Negro. Before his show, I was able to chat with him briefly about the record, and get a peek into one of the more complex minds in the music industry.
You’ve had a busy year so far, but how are things going right now for you?
Yeah, I’ve been busy, but right now, it’s good, you know? My cousin is in town from Sudan and we’re just walking around town, doing some shopping and stuff. It’s pretty nice and relaxing.
Does he come to New York often?
Yeah, he comes about every six months or so. We go all over when he comes and it’s always really nice. I don’t get to see him that much so I always really look forward to it. I haven’t back to Sudan in a while, but I hope to go back soon. He comes here way more than I come there. I wish I could plan my schedule around it more, but I don’t think about that as much as I need to. I try and keep in contact with everyone, but I haven’t been back since 2006.
Well, your new album Mean Love is out and it’s getting some strong word-of-mouth. To you, what makes this one different than your other records?
There’s a message in every song really. Vocals are louder definitely too, but the biggest difference is that the songs are much more concise. They’re a lot more structured than they ever have been. I always told people that Sinkane was started backwards. The music I write is just getting more and more concise and more to a pop structure, as opposed to when I first started writing music.
It’s a lot more autobiographical too. Was that a natural thing that came out as you were writing?
Yeah, absolutely. Willie Nelson said you can’t write a song if you ain’t got nothing to say and that’s pretty true. If you’re going to be singing, you got to really know what you’re talking about. I wanted to make my voice a prominent feature of the songs so I started to think about what I really wanted to talk about and from there, it just turned into a very personal record.
You mentioned that the songs are concise, and they really are when you stack up Mars and your self-titled record against this one. Was there a different way you approached songwriting to get those concise compositions?
I think having vocals as a prominent feature in the songs set up some parameters in songwriting. You have to make a bunch of sacrifices if you want to focus on a voice and equal out something in particular. That stopped me from throwing the kitchen sink at everything. I had to simplify everything, and I let the vocals just take charge, which made it more concise.
What do you want people to take away from Mean Love?
I want them to enjoy and appreciate it for what it’s worth, but hopefully they can also relate to it on their own terms and the record can be uniquely theirs. I definitely was talking about things I dealt with on the album, but I feel like the themes are very universal. People think about this stuff: the relationship with yourself, being alive, death, relationship with the family, longing, nostalgia, and love. I tried to make it such that they could understand what I was talking about myself, but also so they could relate to it on their own terms and have their own relationship with the record.
So for your next stuff, do you think you’ll keep these personal, concise songs going or is there something else you’d like to tackle?
You know, I don’t know. I would love to continue having the songs take me wherever they want to take me. I feel like I have the rest of my life to make records and I’m really excited about that. I don’t know what the next one is going to sound like, but I’m really eager to just continue to work. My worst times are when I set myself up for something. With Mars and Mean Love, I just allowed the ideas control me and take me wherever they ended up taking me, and I’m really happy about that. Moving forward, we have a lot of touring to do, so I’m not going to be thinking about writing any music for a while. When I get back to writing music though, I’ll just do what I do. Get up in the morning and go to the studio and then just see what comes out, and take it from there.
I’ve been seeing your name pop up a lot for DJ gigs in New York. Is that a hobby or something more serious for you?
It’s just a fun thing to do here in New York. A lot of people DJ here and it’s really excited to be in a party atmosphere and not be playing your own music. There are so many other songs from all over the world that are beautiful and it’s really nice to have the opportunity to showcase other people’s music. Seeing people get really excited and happy about that is cool. It’s one of those inevitable things being a musician in New York and it’s an easy way to make some money without having to work some shitty job. I just have so much love for a lot of songs so I’m happy to hang out at a bar and play them for people. It’s really fun.
Before you took out on your own, you were pretty busy session musician working for acts like Caribou, Of Montreal, Yesayer, and more. Which artist do you think you learned the most from?
Oh, man – that’s tough. It’s fairly equal. I learned something different from each one of them. I certainly feel like the Caribou guys are my older brothers and mentors. They introduced me into the game and we’ve created a relationship with each other where I feel like I can ask them anything and they’ll give me good advice. They showed me the right way to things to do things and I feel indebted to them for that. They really are just amazing people. That said, I learned a lot from Yeasayer and Of Montreal as well. I feel like what I learned from both of those bands is different than what I learned from Caribou, but also complimentary. Caribou – those guys are just my boys and they treated me very well.
Now, you’re at The Southern tonight along with Helado Negro. What should fans expect from the show?
It’ll be a big party and a lot of fun. Helado Negro is great and I love performing. I only hope I can get hugs from everybody who comes out to have a good time.
Sinkane and Helado Negro perform tonight at The Southern, located at 103 S. 1st St in Charlottesville, on the Downtown Mall. Doors open at 8:30 PM. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and can be ordered HERE.