BY PARKER KLYN
These are troubling times. With many of our “great” nation’s leaders — including our president — displaying hideous ignorance towards basic human rights regarding refugees’ and women’s rights, it seems like America will look a little bit less diverse for the time being. And that’s a terrible thing, because some of the brightest stars in independent music – the queer, black Frank Ocean, the transgender eco-feminist Anohni, and the unapologetically feminine Grimes, among others – bring incredible diversity to pop culture.
That’s why now more than ever, it is crucial to explore and embrace different styles of music. Luckily, Ahmed Gallab, who performs as Sinkane, has just released one of the most accessible and enjoyable albums of world music in recent memory. “Life & Livin’ It.” This album is his sixth full-length and second since signing with the prestigious German record label City Slang, is a wonderful fusion of genres that gives the listener catharsis, grooves and even a bit of hope moving forward.
The sheer amount of genres incorporated on this album read like a passport full of stamps.
When I say that Sinkane brings musical influences from around the globe, I don’t mean an occasional sprinkling of Afropop à la Vampire Weekend or one Mariachi single like Father John Misty did in his last album. Sinkane has brought us everything from German krautrock to Jamaican dancehall and reggae and everything in between
That’s not to say that “Life & Livin’ It” is a jumbled mess of disjointed styles; in fact, if anything, I wish Sinkane would’ve have pushed the envelope even further. He has this incredible knack for wrapping up these seemingly incompatible genres into a tight Afropop package.
Most of the tracks here are backed by African and island drums; bongos are always prevalent. Still, it seems that he wanted to make this album accessible to new listeners, and he’s done exactly that.
Sinkane isn’t an especially deep or poignant songwriter, but his themes come across well. “Fire” seems to be an ode to keeping focused in times of strife: “Fire / take me higher / but don’t take me away.”
I never thought bongos would make a great baking for a ballad, but they do just that on the beautifully level-headed “Won’t Follow”: “Thoughts of you made me sober / And now that you’re gone / I feel new, and I won’t follow.”
The moment on the record where Sinkane’s embrace of a variety of genres comes together best is on lead single “U’Huh,” which combines African percussion, dancehall grooves, Latin brass, Italian synth leads and even choral call-and-response. And the track ends up being one of the funkiest damn things I’ve heard in recent memory – it’s a toe-tapper for sure.
Sinkane’s parents are British and spent much of his childhood in the U.S., but didn’t come stateside until he was five years old. Before then, he lived in Sudan – the same Sudan that President Trump banned entry from in his executive order. And while “Life & Livin’ It” isn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary, it is charismatic and defiant nonetheless in its relentless passion for diversity in music.
If you’ve never listened to the genre of world music, this is your entry point; the impact of supporting an artist like Sinkane is far greater than money.