Music Interviews
9:31 am
Tue September 2, 2014

Sinkane Makes Music For An Open World

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 9:32 am

For more conversations with music-makers, check out NPR's Music Interviews.

Homepage photo: Martine Carlson

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The music of Sinkane is a mix of '70s funk bass, East African rhythms and the falsetto vocals of Ahmed

Gollab. The group's new album is called "Mean Love" and this song is called "Yacha."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YACHA")

SINKANE: (Singing) You're going to going to keep going 'lone 'til someone loves you. You want attention but what you need is love.

CORNISH: It's hard to pick one song from this album that captures the sound of Sinkane. It crosses continents and zigzags through a mix of musical styles that reflect Ahmed Gollab sonic biography.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW NAME")

CORNISH: Take the song, "New Name."

SINKANE: (Singing) You're on the tip of a hungry tongue. Your new name, a new name, a new name, a name that I don't know.

AHMED GOLLAB: The baseline reminds me a lot of East Africa. It's something that I like to present in my music pretty prominently because that's where I come from. And a lot of the time when I write something, subconsciously it will have a kind of flair, or it will have a kind of emotion or energy. And this one just came out very, very quickly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW NAME")

SINKANE: (Singing) Go on, say it, then. A name that I don't know.

CORNISH: And it has a really fun trumpet, and it just sort of blossoms I guess.

GOLLAB: Yeah, this song is pretty interesting actually because I - I wanted to kind of introduce both of my identities that I kind of have lived with my entire life into one song. Where I come from Sudan and I feel like I'm a Sudanese person and an East African but also grew up in the United States. So there's a lot of it from that.

And at the time, there was a lot of Michael Jackson and a lot of East African music being played around me. It just made a lot of sense to kind of merge those two things together.

CORNISH: You know, I tried to pin down where you're from and where you were raised, and you know, the things people have written about you have been all over the map.

I know you said your Sudanese, but I've seen it said that you've been raised in Utah and Ohio. Now, I understand you moved around a lot because of your father, right? Who was a political exile from Sudan.

GOLLAB: Yeah, I was born in England when my father was working for the Sudanese Embassy in England. In 1989 we moved to Boston, Massachusetts where my father was doing a fellowship at Boston University. As we were there, a military coup overthrew the government and my father was affiliated with the government that was overthrown so we quickly applied for asylum in the United States and gained asylum. At that point, my family had start all over completely from the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SON")

CORNISH: There is a song on the album called "Son."

SINKANE: (Singing) You and I don't share all our views. Still, I am the same as you.

CORNISH: And I don't know if that is kind of, direct conversation you're having with him?

GOLLAB: Yeah, I mean, growing up in the way that I did yielded a lot of confusion. And I think it had a lot to do with me - it didn't have a lot to do with my father at all. I have two very, very supportive parents who've always been there for me and helped me be the person that I am today, you know? But I grew up in a completely different environment from and a completely different culture from my parents.

And I would go home and I would live among the Sudanese and African culture that was in my house and then I'd leave and I would go hang out with my friends or go to school and I would see a completely different culture and it became very confusing for me. So I didn't know how to express myself to anyone, really. And I look back at it now and I see that through this song, I was very, pretty honest about who I am and how I want to explain myself.

And since writing the song and since like, having that experience I realized I should've had that done that much earlier in my life that would have destroyed any kind of confusion or any kind of strange and vague energy that I created.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SON")

SINKANE: (Singing) I will not forget where I came from. I will not forget where I came from.

CORNISH: Now, more than any other era, I hear the '70s in your music. And I'm going to keep that very broad because there are so many genres that would sort of float to the surface. Even in a song like Galley Boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GALLEY BOYS")

CORNISH: Which when I first heard it had like, roots reggae undertones...

GOLLAB: Absolutely.

CORNISH: ...And all the country slide guitar we could handle.

GOLLAB: Right, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GALLEY BOYS")

SINKANE: (Singing) When we were younger it was easy. To find time and time again.

GOLLAB: I found this really amazing relationship between a lot of music that I was listening to that inspired me to make this record - country music, soul music, African music and reggae music - and it seemed to me like the people who created this music and were the founding fathers of this music all came from a similar place.

You know, they understood oppression and longing and the sense of urgency in the same way, you know? Poor white people, or poor black people, or struggling Africans, struggling Jamaican people - they all kind of have a similar understanding of longing. And so I thought it would be really interesting to kind of melt all of these idea from these different musics together to create something that would be incredibly unique.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GALLEY BOYS")

SINKANE: (Singing) If you have to try, maybe you better try.

CORNISH: This is sort of taking a chance because these are reggae and country, right - are two genres that people - when they don't like them, they really don't like them (laughter).

GOLLAB: Yeah, they're a bit polarizing.

CORNISH: And you jam them together.

SINKANE: Yeah. Well, I mean, it's all about feeling good, you know? Like, a lot of that music makes me feel really good, you know? And I'm trying to be as honest as possible and I feel like if I wasn't honest at all, it would make it even more polarizing, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GALLEY BOYS")

SINKANE: (Singing) Maybe you'd better try.

CORNISH: Do you feel like that - all that moving around kind of worked out for you? I mean, when you - when you listen to your own music do you hear it all?

GOLLAB: Yeah, absolutely. I think - I think at first when I was younger, I really hated it. I wanted to be a normal person. I wanted to be like all of my friends who grew up in one house and still to this day go back home to the same house they grew up in.

It was really hard for me to realize that I wasn't going to be that kind of person, but in the long run, I feel like I gained many experiences and the understanding of the world and very early age and it's allowed me to be open-minded. And the music that I make can be related to anybody all over the world and it will allow me to experience the world in a very beautiful way - in a very open way.

CORNISH: Ahmed Gollab - he's the lead singer of Sinkane. Their new album, "Mean Love," is out now. Ahmed Gollab, thanks so much.

GOLLAB: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

CORNISH: For a limited time, you can stream Sinkane's new album, "Mean Love" at nprmusic.org. Ahmed Gollab also put together a playlist of his favorite songs for us. You'll find that on Facebook or Spotify Just search for NPR ATC. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.