American culture was founded on the concept of sampling: combining and altering the music of several cultures to then export whatever outcome as a new product, an American product – cultural imperialism at its best. For those born and raised in America this is a given but how does a Sudanese kid, flung into the U.S. as the son of an exiled politician with an affinity to music deal with this? How do you keep your roots, fit into your new surroundings and work within an already very muddled and confused culture? Musician Ahmed Gallab as the one-man-band Sinkane deals with just that on his debut album »Mars«. The eight-tracked album is so rich and varied in influences -Sudanese pop, jazz, funk and groove – and this, more than just expressing Gallab’s extensive musical knowledge, shows his alienation as an expat: »The American living experience is very comfortable and I never had that.«
Though the theme of alienation, which is immediately present through a title like »Mars«, could be seen as describing Gallab’s overall expat experience it is actually specifically describing his recent move to New York. »The term Mars is an idea, a metaphor that had a lot to do with me getting thrown into a community of musicians through Yeasayer. I felt pretty lost in New York, I didn’t know how to cope with anything.« Gallab, who was an instrumentalist for bands like Caribou and Born Ruffians before doing Sinkane, ended up in New York as Of Montreal’s tour drummer. It was the last stop on the tour and Gallab decided to crash on his sister’s couch for a while instead of heading home – wherever that might have been at the time. He almost immediately met the Yeasayer guys who conveniently were looking for a tour drummer and so he ended up staying in New York.
Gallab was fully flung into Brooklyn’s music scene: “It was isolating – naturally isolating but I was also making a conscious effort to spend time alone.” In his next sentence, somewhat abruptly, he describes the bigger picture: »I consider myself Sudanese-American but at the same time I don’t really feel absolutely American and I don’t feel absolutely Sudanese. Whenever I go to Sudan I feel comfortable there and it’s a part of me but I don’t ultimately feel Sudanese. When I’m in America and I communicate with all my friends there is hardly anything I can relate to.«
»The term Mars is an idea, a metaphor that had a lot to do with me getting thrown into a community of musicians through Yeasayer. I felt pretty lost in New York, I didn’t know how to cope with anything.« Gallab was just five when his father, a politician, had to seek political asylum in America. His dad and mom had to start from scratch but both did more than just o.k. – they got their PHDs and became professors. They never stayed in one place longer than 4 years but his parents made sure to maintain the kids’ Sudanese identity. “My parents taught us Arabic and Sudanese culture and from 1997 until I went to college I spent 3 months each year in Sudan.” Gallab’s mother always played Sudanese music in the car and at home – a very apparent influence in Sinkane’s music. »It wasn’t a decision to include Sudanese influences in my music. It’s just a part of who I am.« The first instrument Gallab learnt were the drums and they are still the foundation of his songs. »It’s easy for me to start syncopating the drums and from there the songs take on a life of their own.« Sinkane’s music is really groove based with a heavy focus on drum and bass displaying a strong Sudanese, soul and funk influence.
Though Gallab’s first and foremost a drummer he has since mastered keyboards, guitar and bass resulting in »Mars« being almost entirely produced by just Gallab. »I had long sessions during the day and then I would send what I had done to my friend and co-producer Greg Lofaro. He would listen, give me his notes and I would re-work the tracks the next day.« This allowed Gallab to detach himself from his work and get an outside perspective in. »It did get lonely towards the end but that’s when Ira from Yeasayer and George from Twin Shadow came to the studio to record their parts.«
»Mars« is a super short album. Super short and super dense but anything more would have been too much: »If I would have added anymore it would have been too far away from the common thread.« That thread being the fight against insecurity, feeling alien, foreign and detached. »The songs are very all encompassing, so yeah, it’s very much about the space that I am in.«