Sinkane's Ahmed Gallab knows things are tough but says we'll be OK (and he loves you all)
“Good morning, everybody! I hope you all have a fantastic day!” Sinkane's Ahmed Gallab posted on Facebook recently. “Love to you, your family, your pets and your favorite jeans!!!”
The post may seem like the opposite sentiment from what you typically observe on social media these days, and that's exactly the point. For some time, Gallab has relentlessly pursued positivity through his Facebook presence, using the platform almost exclusively as a way to communicate variations of “I love you all!”
“Almost two years ago, I stopped drinking,” Gallab said recently by phone. “I started realizing I was not really happy. I was onstage playing music in front of thousands of people … and I'm not happy. I wanted to turn my life around, and I realized that, the only person in charge of your happiness is yourself, and if you choose to not acknowledge that, it can very easily put you in a depressed state. I wanted to hold myself accountable for my actions. So I stopped drinking. I started working out. I started eating healthier. I realized it was making me a lot happier, and I wanted to share that with people.”
Gallab also saw his personal change as an opportunity to counteract the constant stream of negativity in his feed. “Everyone talks about how everything sucks — Donald Trump and gas prices and pollution and global warming. It's all there, and it totally does suck. But it's refreshing to understand that things are cool, too, and it's important to be happy,” he said. “I've got an overwhelming response from being as positive as I am. I think it's contagious because it seems abnormal, which is funny to say, because happiness and a positive message shouldn't seem abnormal. That should be what we see every single day. But it's hard to stay positive. It's hard to be happy. There's a lot of things that go against you.
“To hear from someone at least once a day that they hope that you have a good day and that things are gonna be OK today — it reminds me of my mom when I was a kid. I used to come home from school, and my mom would be so excited to see me, and I'd be like, ‘I feel a lot better now.'”
That glass-half-full message can be heard throughout Sinkane's new album, Life & Livin' It, especially on funky single, “U'huh.” “Kulu shi tamaam,” Gallab sings over horn blasts and percussive, wah-soaked guitar. The phrase translates to “Everything is great,” and background singers echo the implications of the sentiment: “We're all gonna be all right.”
Instead of glossing over darkness, “U'huh” affirms negativity while also putting it into a historical context. “It's always been this way; there ain't no golden days,” Gallab sings in a punchy falsetto.
“There's never been a time in history where someone has said, ‘Everything is great. There's no bad in the world,'” said Gallab, who brings Sinkane to the Basement on Wednesday, Feb. 22. “There's always terrible shit bringing people down. But what are you gonna do about that? You can't just wallow in that filth. You have to stay positive. I think it's really important to be realistic and understand that shit sucks, but also understand that everything is gonna be OK.”
A little more than 10 years ago, Gallab found a similar message in the music of Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor. “When I first heard William Onyeabor's music, I related to it in a way that I never related to anything else before. It was distinctly African sounding, but it wore these American influences so earnestly, so honestly , and with so much inspiration and passion. … [I thought,] this is the sound of who I am,” said Gallab, who was born in London while his father was working as a diplomat in the Sudanese embassy. In 1989, just before the Sudanese government was overthrown in a coup, his family moved to the United States, settling in Boston, Utah and then Kent, Ohio. Gallab eventually moved to Columbus to attend Ohio State and stayed for six years before moving to Brooklyn in 2008.
A few years ago, Gallab was given the task of leading a group of musicians, who dubbed themselves the Atomic Bomb Band, to perform the music of Onyeabor. The band included the likes of David Byrne (Talking Heads), Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), tenor sax legend Pharaoh Sanders, Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark and others. To pull it off, Gallab knew he had to up his game, so he and his Sinkane bandmates (guitarist Jonny Lam, drummer Jason Trammell and bassist Ish Montgomery) put in 200 hours of rehearsal.
“We were sharp, super confident and ready to go,” Gallab said. “Jonny joked, ‘We want people to be afraid of us when we get there,' and that's pretty much what it was. … Getting respect from people like Pharaoh Sanders, who's the reason I started Sinkane — all of that gave me confidence and inspiration.”
When Gallab finished writing Life & Livin' It last March, Sinkane put in a month of rehearsals, followed by a month of performing live at a residency in New York, plus a summer tour, all before the band ever entered the studio. “When we went into the studio for this new album, it really clicked. Everything started working in a way that it hadn't before,” he said. “Now the band is fully formed. It's the best it's ever been.”