Melodically beat-driven and meditatively lyrical, Sinkane’s Mean Love rolls like an emotional, existential history of the artist. Ahmed Gallab has created an altogether unique compound of sound, stylistically nostalgic and ultramodern at the same time. From Gallab’s childhood in Sudan there is a Pan-African influence of popular Sudanese music and haqibah, as well as distinct horn and synth arrangements more common to East Africa. After fleeing Sudan when his father, a journalist and politician, was exiled following a military coup in 1989, Ahmed was faced with a stark contrast when he moved to the predominantly white, Mormon center of Provo, Utah. While this and a subsequent move to Ohio caused a further sense of alienation in a young Gallab, it was also part of the inspiration for the path he walks as an artist.
This background merges with the lessons learned from Ahmed‘s stints with obsessive craftsmen such as Caribou, Yeasayer and Of Montreal, and especially the monumental task he underwent as musical director of ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor. Gallab excavated and arranged a treasure trove of lost classics from the West African synth-pioneer to put together a now legendary series of performances. Alongside his band-mates in Sinkane (Jaytram on drums, Ish Montgomery on bass, Jonny Lam on guitar), he also brought on guests Damon Albarn, David Byrne, The Lijadu Sisters, Money Mark and members of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, and Blood Orange.
You can detect a surprising country soul rising in the title track, “Mean Love”, and also in the hauntingly beautiful slide guitar work of “Galley Boys.” Both tunes are reminiscent of a time when soul heavyweights such as James Carr and Solomon Burke recorded juke joint anthems. The title track sits proudly on the same mantelpiece as an updated version of those classics, a tearjerker that will grip the imaginative heart of modern concertgoers and collectors of dusty soul on vinyl.
It takes a disciplined mind as well as an artistic heart to curate so many influences and disseminate them wisely. Despite studying strategic communications and Arabic, and being raised in an academic and political household, Gallab professes that his aim is “to create truly universal music,” rather than issue any political statements. However, there are undeniable political aspects to his songs: The very name of the band is after a misheard pronunciation of Joseph Cinqué, a West African who led a revolt against slave traders after being captured in 1839.