These past few weeks, Ahmed Gallab has been the toast of NYC. He just released his debut record for DFA Records as Sinkane, and his band was the celebrated guest at many a high-profile CMJ party. Before cultivating his own music as Sinkane, Gallab performed on a variety of instruments for a handful of indie rockers who came up in the late ‘aughts —Of Montreal, Caribou, Eleanor Friedberger, and most notably Yeasayer. He was born in Sudan to intellectual parents who landed in the U.S. as political exiles, and his adolescent years were spent playing in hardcore and punk bands in Ohio. Now Gallab’s HQ is in Brooklyn. It’s no surprise that Mars sounds remarkably cosmopolitan.
The record is massively eclectic and casually uneven, but that’s not to say that Gallab can’t clearly articulate himself when it comes to the many musical influences, cultures, and communities that he can claim. He doesn’t mash—rather he blends genres and aesthetics. The sonic elements that unify Mars are the African influences, of which there are many. Gallab has mentioned in interviews that he always tries to incorporate an African element in his music, and his interpretations grab at sounds from all over the continent. He has cited Sudanese pop, but in “Jeeper Creeper” alone there’s a beat that is reminiscent of the Taureg bluesmen from the Sahara and sparkling guitar washes that could festoon a vintage Mulata Astatke piece.
Somehow, Mars revels in its hodgepodge without sounding busy or forced. There are crisp, svelte guitar melodies on “Jeeper Creeper” and the galloping “Warm Spell,” but then flautist stutzmcgee adds sputtering, free-jazz honking a la Coleman & Coltrane to the last few meandering tracks. His vocal work takes a detour on “Lady C’mon” and “Making Time.” His soft, rounded voice is bubbled through this vocoder/auto-tune effect that recalls Big Boi’s “Shutterbug,” but the beats are as much late ‘70s, American electro-funk as West African disco from around the same era. On the synthier bits, he shuns the Parliament-esque maximalism to make a clearer, simpler musical statement. It’s by no means “minimal,” but perhaps shares a quality with Kraftwerk or Francis Bebey’s electronic albums that is then augmented by more complex percussion. Sinkane is the project of a man who is well-listened and open-minded–unafraid to explore and assimilate whatever catches his ear. The most telling detail of his background is that he is a working musician who has been involved in a diverse set of musical projects.
His new video for “Runnin’” plays scenes of revolution—black and red visuals, a bloody, public takedown, fleeing the Plebians in a Benz—but Sinkane’s music certainly does not sound aggressive. The vibe is one of quiet intensity and curiosity. If it’s taking a stand at all, it’s to elide and obscure differences away, not to assault them. At its best, Mars sounds fresh and unique. Alien? (Martian?) I wouldn’t go that far, but Mars is as much fun to listen to straight as it is to parse out Gallab’s rich musical influences. Perhaps the title-track is not a Space Is the Place take-off overture but a declaration of a new specimen, unhinged from any one place on Earth. words/a spoto