Sinkane brings his globe-trotting new album to the Wexner Center
Ahmed Gallab has long lived a nomadic existence.
The musician, who performs and records as Sinkane, was born in London, where his father was stationed while working for the Sudanese embassy, and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1989 shortly before the Sudanese government was overthrown in a coup. Once stateside, the family applied for and received political asylum, continuing to move every few years before settling in nearby Kent.
While the Brooklyn-based Gallab is slightly more anchored these days - when he's not on tour, anyway - his childhood travels continue to fuel his art. On Mean Love (DFA), the musician's eclectic, excellent new album under the Sinkane banner, he wrestles with his upbringing ("I will not forget where I came from," he sings on "Son") and questions if he'll ever put down proper roots. "Where, if I should settle down, will I finally settle?" he repeats mantra-like on the album closing "Omdurman."
"There are a lot of people like me that come from East Africa, or live in a place that's foreign to them, and we all ask ourselves that same question," said Gallab, 30, who attended college at Ohio State University and spent six years living and working in Columbus before relocating to Brooklyn in the summer of 2008. "I have a lot of friends who go home to visit their folks, and they stay in the house they grew up in and sleep in the bed or the room where they were raised. For me, the concept of home is so different, and the idea of settling is so strange."
At times, the musician's borderless songs can be similarly restless, flitting hummingbird-like from one genre to the next, and the album incorporates strands of Afro-pop, vintage soul, country & western, Tropicalia and more.
"I read what people say about the record - that it's all over the place and I have all these different ideas going on - but I never think about it like that, really," said Gallab, who will perform in Columbus for the first time since early 2013 when he visits the Wexner Center for a concert on Thursday, Oct. 30. "I just want to express all these different things I have in my mind. When I listen to music I don't want to listen to one record all the way through; I prefer mixtapes."
Though diverse, the album still feels of a singular piece, like a quilt stitched from wildly different swatches of fabric. It helps, of course, that Gallab turned out his most personal batch of songs to date, singing of heartache, loneliness and his struggle to reconcile with the past, presenting a singular viewpoint that helps weave together these seemingly disparate musical elements.
"I feel like I've always had a lot to say, I just didn't know how," Gallab said of his music's more personal turn. "When you're speaking about personal subjects that you've never talked about, it's definitely therapeutic. A lot of the ideas in my head have finally come out, and now I can be a bit easier about them. I feel a lot lighter now that this record is out."
Growing up, music always functioned as a form of release. As a teenager, Gallab got his start playing drums in hardcore bands, pounding at the kit as hard as he could in order to "get out this frustration." Eventually, though, the musician tired of not having an outlet for the musical ideas coursing through his veins - "I had so many thoughts I wanted to express … and never had the opportunity [playing in bands]," he said - so at 22 he launched Sinkane as a solo project where he could express himself more "totally and absolutely."
With Mean Love, this meant embracing everything right down to the aging process, an element that surfaces in the album's glitchy, shimmering lead single "How We Be." "It's been some time since I have seen your face," Gallab sings. "Seems we've both gained some weight."
"I don't know if it was a conscious effort on my part to say, 'I'm getting older; I need to write a grownup record.' It just happened," said Gallab, who was raised by professor parents and received his earliest exposure to music via religious ceremonies led by his grandfather, a cleric in the Sudan. "The older you get as a musician, the more time you have to … get to know yourself. And when you know yourself more, I think whatever art you create, and everything you end up doing, becomes a better reflection of who you really are."
Wexner Center for the Arts
8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30
1871 N. High St., Campus