Ahmed Gallab’s grandfather once told him that he came from a nomadic family, and that’s certainly been reflected in his life.
Now a Brooklynite, rubbing shoulders with the DFA set, the Sinkane frontman fled Sudan for the United States at the age of five with his college professor parents – political refugees. Having wandered musically, also, with stints as a session musician for the likes of Yeasayer and Caribou, it feels now that Gallab has found a home in his sound. Life & Livin’ It is a slickly produced set of afro-funk jams constrained in the kind of tight pop structures that come with experience.
Gallab’s time as musical director and frontman of the Atomic Bomb! Band – the touring supercollective tribute to the music of Nigeria’s late, great William Onyeabor – is reflected throughout in confident melodic flourishes, soulful vocals and the sometimes earnest simplicity of the lyrical message.
Experience often grants perspective, and the relentless positivity of lead single ‘U’Huh’ is perhaps born of that. In a time when the president tries to ban his Sudanese compatriots from travelling to the US, it’s refreshing to hear a chorus that proclaims, “we’re all gonna be alright,” and “kulu shi tamaam” – an Arabic phrase meaning, “everything is great”.
‘Favourite Song’ was written about Gallab’s time DJing in New York. “Won’t you take me to a place, where I lose my sense of time,” he sings, capturing the power of living in music and the pleasure of granting people that escape.
Elsewhere, the funk is dialled up to maximum for second single ‘Telephone,’ where the horn section from Brooklyn afrobeat group Antibalas drops in a few infectious brass riffs to make for the best booty-call song since ‘Hotline Bling.’
While Gallab’s travels have lent him a genius for blending musical styles, lyrically he relies on longtime collaborator Greg Lofaro and drummer Jason Trammell. This creative removal from the source of inspiration mean that the album’s more contemplative moments – such as penultimate track ‘Won’t Follow’, about Gallab quitting alcohol, don’t quite pack the emotional spark needed to carry them.
It’s unlikely that Sinkane fans will be bothered by that though – the current of warmth and joy flowing through Life and Livin’ It will keep them coming back for more. Kulu shi tamaam!