Ahmed Gallab makes peace with duality on new album 'Depayse'
When Sinkane's Ahmed Gallab moved to the U.S. as a child, he would sometimes try to hide his Sudanese heritage. Like most kids, he wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.
“You don't realize that you have something to contribute,” Gallab said recently by phone while on tour in Switzerland.
But as Gallab grew older, and especially in the last few years, the musician has felt an internal drive to connect more with his Sudanese roots (Gallab's father was a Sudanese diplomat and immigrated to the States with his family in 1989, shortly before Sudan's government was overthrown in a coup). When Gallab performed in Sudan a year and a half ago, he saw kids who looked at him as a representative of themselves.
And yet, Gallab is also American. He lived in Massachusetts and Utah, and spent six years here in Columbus (Alive named Sinkane a Band to Watch in 2008). Now a Brooklyn resident, Gallab would often find himself confused about the duality of his American and Sudanese identities. He kept asking himself, “Where do I belong?”
Gallab touched on that question in previous Sinkane albums, particularly 2012's Mars, though he tended to keep things vague and shied away revelations that felt too personal. But while making new album Depayse (a French word meaning “to be removed from one's habitual surroundings”), he embarked on an inward journey of self-exploration, initially looking for inspiration in authors like Joseph Campbell, Daniel Quinn and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“It was vulnerable, but it was exciting. It was fun to really explore in that way,” Gallab said. “I feel like all the records I made previously were leading to this one.”
While the books provided a jumping-off point, a watershed revelation came to Gallab in a vivid dream. He was back in Omdurman, Sudan, when he heard someone playing guitar and singing in Arabic on the street at night. The man turned out to be his father, sitting on the ground in front of Gallab's childhood home.
“I still think about it,” Gallab said. “It's like I could go to Sudan and see it happen.”
The next day, Gallab emailed his father to tell him about the dream, and to ask for his help deciphering what his father was singing. “I said, ‘Is this what you were telling me?'' Gallab said. “And he said, ‘No, it was this.'”
The words his father sang became the chorus of Depayse's funky, psychedelic title track: “I am your life/And all of our lives/From within the city until our uprising/Our days have left us in the city and, with our imagination, we move forward.”
“[He was telling me] that I am a citizen of the world. Don't worry about your issue with identity and duality,” Gallab said. “It's the best advice anyone can give you.”
Gallab said after making Deypase he's no longer confused about his sense of self. “Complexity exists,” he said. “I can make my own identity. No one can define who I am other than me.”