It’s still unclear how our art, literature, and music will be shaped by America’s new administration. What novels will give us solace during the next four years? What songs will provide us the strength to wake up every morning and get out of our goddamn beds? For Ahmed Gallab, the most effective way to respond to hate is with hope, and to overcome anger with joy.
Born in London to Sudanese parents, Gallab and his family moved to the US when he was five after briefly living in Sudan. Cutting his teeth as a touring and session musician for Yeasayer, Of Montreal, and Caribou, Gallab started recording under the moniker Sinkane in 2007, using the solo project as a vehicle to create sounds that reflected his eclectic tastes and multicultural upbringing. Last month’s Life & Livin’ It incorporates Afrobeat, Sudanese pop, psych-rock, and ’60s funk like it’s soundtracking a big, global dance party. It is the most fully realized Sinkane album yet—and, not coincidentally, the most jubilant.
“I really wanted to have a lot of fun with this album,” Gallab says on the phone from Phoenix. “I would start writing a song and settle on a groove, and if it made me dance in the studio then I would know I was doing something right.”
The buoyant feel of this record has much to do with another project he began shortly after the last Sinkane album. Assuming the role of musical director, Gallab and a supercrew of musicians (which includes David Byrne and Damon Albarn) collaborated on Atomic Bomb!, a tribute to the late Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor.
“Doing that William record was a huge deal, because he is a person who actually did influence my sound,” Gallab says. “I spent a lot of time listening to his records and dissecting all of the elements. That, if anything, inspired the sound of the new album.”
In “U’Huh,” the immensely danceable first single from Life & Livin’ It, Gallab follows a lyric in Arabic, “kulu shi tamaam” (“everything is great”) with a line in English, “We’re all gonna be all right.” By choosing optimism over defeat, “U’Huh” echoes Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” with its defiant call to party and celebrate, even in the face of adversity. Gallab explains that his motivation in recording Life & Livin’ It was more personal than political—though, in our current climate, even the personal can’t help but be political.
“When I was writing this album I wasn’t really thinking about any political situation,” Gallab says. “I was thinking about my experience as an American, as a Sudanese American, as a Muslim, as a Black person, and as a citizen of the world.”
Though Life & Livin’ It incorporates sounds from such far-off and disparate places as Sudan, Nigeria, Kingston, and London, Sinkane speaks to the rich diversity of America, to the cultural and musical contributions of our nation of immigrants, and reminds us that even a revolution needs to dance from time to time.
“There are a lot of people who are political out there right now, and they are very angry,” Gallab says. “And I feel like there’s an alternative way of coping with struggle, where it’s coming together to celebrate the fact that you’re alive, and to be joyous.”