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Interview - Sinkane

  • By MisterCharlie Author Avatar
  • 19 December 2012

Up 'til 2012 Ahmed Gallab was a man you heard, rather than heard of. The Brooklyn dwelling polymath of Sudanese descent spent the best part of last decade performing with some of the most thrilling acts to spring from the indie sphere. From playing drums with Caribou and Of Montreal, to touring on keys with Yeasayer, master musician Gallab is held in high regard by his peers, but little known outside industry circles. Not for much longer. Somewhere along the way he got bored with regurgitating other peoples songs, no matter how amazing, decided to take the name Sinkane, and set out to record his own opus. The result is the terrific debut album Mars; a woozy smear of afro pop memories, fat backed funk licks, spaced out headjams and poly rhythmic shuffle. Now he’s put together a band of like-minded souls and hit the road, bringing his laid back, dream-state grooves 'round Europe and the States, honing the record every step of the way.



Meeting Gallab on the eve of his UK debut, things aren’t looking great- it’s a freezing cold December night with a proper East London pea souper blanketing Hackney.  He’s got a bad stomach, possibly from some dodgy meat, although he professes to ‘loving English food’ (not an easy thing in itself…). This positivity shines through the man- even looking tired and feeling a bit shitty he’s quietly effusive, passionate about his influences, his fellow musicians, and the chance to finally make his own mark. I want to know if he’s nervous about stepping into the public arena -

“Taking the limelight has been a pleasure. It’s been stressful, but its good stress” he replies,

“It’s pretty relieving actually- it’s exciting, I really enjoy doing it on my own terms- it gets kinda hard after a while where you’re playing someone else’s music, on that level, as a hired hand. I mean, it’s exciting because you get to see the world, and it pays well but you’re not really doing it for yourself. It’s not something I was interested in doing anymore. I was in 4 different band dynamics, and I learnt a lot, I’m greatly indebted to all of them for passing knowledge on to me, but when you come to do it with your own group, that’s the ultimate learning process. “

And what a learning process..! On the studio version of Mars, Gallab plays round 90% of all the music you hear, switching between instruments like some hipster reimagining of Prince. Live is a whole new story, and he’s been evolving the record’s sound on the road, learning to share his vision amongst a band, something that can’t have proved easy

“It’s been really challenging,” he agrees, “But it’s been an awesome challenge. The four of us are all very serious musicians, and it’s been great as friends working out how to make it a real band. It’s real easy to make a record on your own. All you have to do is spend as much time as you want in a room, and play until you feel it works. But when you have to physically play it with other people it can be pretty tough- but it’s the way forward.”

Gallab thinks a lot about direction. The self-confessed music obsessive is adamant that Mars is a finished chapter, a collection of songs that he felt he had to record before he could move on.

“I don’t want to make another record like that.” He tells me,

“I want to move forward. The most relevant thing to be able to do in the modern day is to explore all of the musical possibilities. It’s the most progressive thing and most interesting thing. A person like me will just scour the internet all day long, and I’m just so inspired. “

This leads him on to the subject of all the music he loves, and he lights up, enthusing with a genuine, charming passion about the wealth of songs that he distilled into his debut,

“I was listening to a lot of Soundway compilations, a lot of music from West Africa, Zambia, Ethiopia – there was a real specific energy to songs, they’re not overworked, they all drew from soul and funk from the US, you hear these African tunes with horns wailing like James Brown, or these African interlocking patterns that draw on Sly Stone- I really like how the styles have been smeared together to create something new– but the common theme was that the songs were very uplifting, uplifting in a specific way, and I wanted to bring that to my work.  And then I wanted to bring in the weird sounds from the more experimental end of hip hop, people like SaRa Partners, and Madlib. [Zambian psyche experimentalists] The Witch were a big influence.”

The dust covered 70s vibe is unashamed on Mars, and as Kindness have done with disco, and Tame Impala with psyche rock, Sinkane have appropriated past sounds and knowingly remade them on modern kit. They filter musical memories through layers of degradation, infusing the record with the fuzzy, rose tinted recollection of nostalgia, aided in nailing the details by limitless access to classic footage, collated in hours and hours of Youtube clips and constantly updated blogs. I want to know, why is this nostalgia so appealing? Gallab responds easily -

“The older you get the more you revert to what you know. And one of the things I’m incredibly nostalgic about is the music I grew up with- it’s music you heard on a cheap shitty radio, so it had this lo fi angular sound.  When I hear that kind of music I’m really drawn to it, it reminds me of waking up at my Mom’s for breakfast. I went through a period of time in my life – I think everyone does - when I got so sick of what was going on right now. I just wasn’t interested in the modern age, and there was a great opportunity, the internet created a an amazing opportunity for all of us to hear music that’s so rich and beautiful  - Soundway presented amazing comps of incredible songs that were just in peoples basements. I was just so fascinated by that- this is what I was looking for.”


Lest this be mistaken for a totally retro movement, Gallab is insistent that the remodelling of old styles on new technology is creating strange new forms. When I compare his album to Tame Impala’s Lonerism, he has an interesting take on why their music is something more than an exercise in well crafted homage   

“ When I listen to the Tame Impala album I can hear how he did it—because everyone nowadays is recording music in their bedroom and you get so familiar with it - I can think oh, I know that filter, I  know that plug in. You can try and make things sound vintage, but they’ll also have a very specific modern quality – you can try and emulate a tape machine, but really you’re using this database that exists on the computer, this binary code to make the sound of a tape machine. You can go home tomorrow and write a song, and it could be absolutely full on, it could sound like a Phil Spector tune, the production, the instrumentation, the singing, everything, and you could make it in a day. One person can be in their room by themselves, and make it sound like a band, but it’s unique because it’s actually one person. It’s so weird, it’s so far out, but it’s also pretty beautiful.”

And with that I wrap up the interview, allowing Gallab to turn back to his fellow Sinkane members, sitting in this pub in Hackney, which could be a bar anywhere in the Western world, tapping away on laptops and scrolling through iPhones, plugged into all the noise and tumult of the web, searching for more nuggets of gold.

For more on Sinkane, visit his website. Mars is out now on City Slang.