Interview: Sinkane (February 2017)

There is this trademark groovy, danceable, lightness to Sinkane’s songs that make them either deeply political music, in the same vein as Fela Kuti for example, or the music of a Mozart of our times, a bourgeois genius producing songs that amaze those who are both refined and style savvy. In this bizarre world of socially conscious, if expensive style, the question that one would want to ask to Sinkane is where all of this, the singing, the instrument playing, is meant to lead to.

I dialled Ahmed Gallab, (Sinkane is his artist name and also that of his band) with that exact thought in mind, floored by the sensibility of his pastiches of funk, pop, reggae. It was if I had been listening to SUN, as written in caps lock in Charles Bukowski’s poetry, and other instances wherein sun is a guiding metaphor for human culture, when listening to Sinkane.

Once associated with time, or the age of existence, sunlight and clapping, collective dance, is metaphorically the stuff of many musical folk cultures; of people outside for hours, singing through ritual and hard work. Why the lightness?

He answered this interview’s questions in the way that a musician who has thought a lot about what it means to be making music and what it can mean to the human condition, philosophically. It made for a fun time that pointed to his being a new member in the cohort of musicians who chose to dance an audience forward, imbuing them with spirit, to meet the challenges which life presents.

To start out, is your music is political?

I think that everyone’s music is political. I don’t mean derivative of government or something like that but identity is political and is religion. So much of what we engage ourselves in is political and it informs music. I am a second generation diaspora northeastern African: much of what I consider my experience as a Muslim person is political.

While listening to your music, I came to the conclusion that either this is political in the same vein as Fela Kuti or M.I.A., or stylish bourgeoisie, What do you intend for with your rhythms?

Sinkane’s rhythms come out of experience. I have travelled a lot and from travelling have absorbed a lot of cultures. From my experience, I’ve decided to play rhythms of struggle and do what soul, funk, country & western and reggae do: be a community’s heartbeat. I’ve observed that whether it be poor white folks or poor Africans, their struggle is music and mine, rhythmically, wants to connect with all people in the way that the genres I stated before do.

How about your lyrics?

Much of the lyrics are written by other members of the band but I’d like to connect with the audience by talking about myself in a way that will get them to think about themselves. I chose to sing vulnerably, as a black Muslim person in the US, open about his experiences going back home to Sudan.

You seem pretty concerned about society, or maybe social prosperity..

I mean I live in New York City where there are as much as 6 different languages being spoken side by side and different foods and parades for different cultures, all executed authentically. There is hatred in New York City also, but it’s hard not to want to connect to others while being a citizen of this city.

Where is music at today, in terms of its place in society?

I’d say that music is deeply influenced by the internet. The internet produces immediacy and music has to deliver the immediacy that people are looking for.

With that said, I think that music is in a good place right now. Groups like Helado Negro are really producing great music for our times.

So, you’d say that we’re living in a pretty good time for music?

I mean the 60’s were a time for pretty terrible music, as much as there were incredible songs. We just remember the great songs and artists. It’s about dealing with the challenges that are before us I think, and music is doing that.

Tell me about your new album, Life & Livin’ It [released by City Slang just a few weeks ago]…

Well, it’s an album made to have a lot of fun. It’s about personal experience in a way that makes people feel comfortable and brings them together.

It’s about being, living, and even alternative coexistence. It’s true to who I am, as a person.

In terms of who you are as a person, are you an existentialist, in the sense that you believe that you are a product of your own decisions? Or an essentialist, where you’d believe that you have been given an essence by a higher power, and are pursuing it?

Religion has certainly influenced who I am and is one part. However, my identity also comes from being a brother, son, musician, citizen, boyfriend – the good and the bad. 

Photo ©: Jo Bongard