Positivity saves lives. Just ask hospital workers who see miracles happen on a regular basis. Keeping an uplifting outlook and a hope for what’s next is what not only allows those going through physical pain the ability to live longer than predicted, but makes it them feel good. Positivity is the key to living a life of quality; sometimes it’s just hard to uphold it. Case in point: every day that inequality continues to tighten its claws around Americans.
That’s where Sinkane comes in. His newest album, Life & Livin’ It, brings unparalleled joy to the forefront with a genuine desire to uplift those who listen. It’s full of horns and solos and soulful words. Even on the dreariest of days or in the darkest of depressions, it makes listeners feel like there’s reason enough to keep going.
That type of music could only come from him. Ahmed Gallab, the singer-songwriter behind the moniker Sinkane, is an artist who has lived it all. Growing up in London—though he’s lived in both Sudan and Ohio—he’s seen his fair share of difficulties, but he found out how to challenge them to be positive when he stumbled across the music of William Onyeabor, a Nigerian funk and disco songwriter from the ‘70s, over a decade ago. Gallab found himself overwhelmed by the power of music—for all the right reasons.
“It changed my life,” he says, citing the song “Better Change Your Mind” specifically. “It gave me a new sense of purpose for what I wanted to do in life and what I wanted to do musically. It was the first song I heard anything in music that I could totally, absolutely, 100 percent relate to. African music that is distinctly African but had this American influence that was so earnest, wholesome, honest, and inspired? I related to it. It reminded me of my experience as an African who lived in the United States. That song has a beautiful universal message that was so important to me and for me to hear.”
From that point on, Gallab became obsessed with the music of Onyeabor. He scoured the internet every day to find out more about him—which, back in 2006, wasn’t as easy as it was now. He knew it was time to create music that carried on this tradition. “Different cultures promote different things, and experiencing it allows us to understand one another better,” he says. “I hope my music can do what his did for me.”
He achieved that goal in part by his participation in the Atomic Bomb! Band, a touring supergroup that plays Onyeabor’s Nigerian funk music. After being asked by David Byrne, he filled the role of the band’s music director, meaning Gallab was suddenly telling Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundsystem, Money Mark of the Beastie Boys, and more what to do. There was no one better, really, given Gallab’s deep love for the musician. And yet telling people like Damon Albarn of Blur and Dev Hynes of Blood Orange what to do still came as a shock.
“A lot of people are afraid of being positive and promoting a universal message the way he did. It’s gotten to a point where projecting unity is getting corny. He did it in this way that made a lot of sense to me. It addressed people from all over the world and told them you don’t own this world no matter how much you think it’s yours or how much control you think you have over it. We’re here to provide a beautiful environment for everyone because we’re all connected.”
“That reminded me of my experience growing up,” he continues. “I learned we’re all the same and believe in the same things. We create these ridiculous things against one another and fight to create tension. That’s unproductive and ridiculous. When we’re happy, we’re happy in the same way. When we’re sad, we’re sad in the same way. Different cultures portray these in different ways, but we’re all similar, and it’s important to recognize this and enjoy how those differences can allow us to feel those things differently even though we know them so well.”
That’s why he wrote “U’Huh,” a song brimming with unadulterated joy that uses Arabic in its chorus to deliver a message of hope: “Kulu shi tamaam,” meaning “Everything is great!” Horns jab the air and a tropical percussion backbone grabs you by the hand and asks you to dance. He is, at the root of it, speaking about the now. Gallab knows the importance of celebrating the now, of what you’ve been given, even if life keeps taking from you as time passes.
In that sense, for Gallab, it’s both complicated and easy to let yourself smile, to let yourself feel happiness, and to let yourself move forward in life without ignoring what’s going on politically. Even in the most basic sense of being an adult, it’s easy to lose sight of what to be grateful for. “It’s hard to do daily things like paying the bills, calling your parents back, doing laundry, keeping up appearances with people. That adds up and turns into this crazy life where you begin feeling resentful, you get fat, you feel like time slips away and you don’t get to experience the things that mean the most to you,” he says. It’s difficult to realize something is in front of you that you took for granted years ago, like the loved ones in your life, and the older you get the more aware you are of their importance.
“If you say to yourself, ‘Six years ago, everything was great,’ then what you’re doing subconsciously is relating every experience you have in the moment to the past. You’re really living the past. Nothing can attest to a perfect place in time in high school or college or whatever if you do that. The other end of the spectrum is looking ahead, towards money you need to make or a job you want to get—and that means you’re living in an idea,” he says. “Understand that what you’re doing today is what you will do today. Take full advantage of it. Even the simple things, like getting to make your coffee and chill out. Maybe tomorrow you won’t get to. This way of thinking turned me into a New Age hippie of sorts, I know how this sounds, but I’m enjoying life a lot more.”
By no means is it simple to move forward with a positive outlook. All Gallab suggests is to reflect on what you’re grateful for on a regular day. Today, you get to have it. Tomorrow you may not.
“A lot of the music that responds to what’s going on in the world is a bit militant. In the ’70s there was the Black Bullets, but there was also Bob Marley. They were talking about the same things, but the energy of their music was totally different,” he says. “People respond to those things accordingly. I can only hope my music is the positive response and the sunshine reaction to what we’re going through now.”
SINKANE, NO BS! BRASS BAND, THE MACROTONES. THU 2.16. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 9PM/18+/$12. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM