SINKANE – Interview

Wenn es jemand versteht, seine Hörer unmittelbar in gute Laune zu versetzen mit seiner Musik, dann ist das wohl Sinkane: Auch auf dem dritten Album Life & Livin‘ It schaffen er und seine Band wieder einen mitreißenden Feelgood-Sound, der bei aller Eingängigkeit immer vielschichtig und interessant bleibt. Zwischen Funk und Soul, gepaart mit pan-afrikanischen Elementen und Disco-Klängen, hat der aus dem Sudan kommende New Yorker Ahmed Gallab über die letzten Jahre seinen ganz eigenen Sound kreiert. Und auch wenn die Songs auf dem neuen Album sich vorwiegend den nicht immer einfachen persönlichen Erfahrungen des 33-jährigen Multiinstrumentalisten widmen, steht über allem doch ganz klar die optimistische Botschaft, dass es wichtig ist, positiv zu bleiben, um sich einander zu unterstützen – egal wie schwierig es sein mag. Mit uns sprach er über den Anspruch, eine positive Einstellung aufrechtzuerhalten, um wachsen zu können, um miteinander leben zu können – und wie sich all das in seiner Musik vereint.

Let’s not start with the music, but with the cover of your new album: There are so many things to look at – what does all that stand for?
The drummer of the band came up with this idea. He thought ‘maybe we should do a cover that has you set up in a tropical seeming environment to take you out of the typical situation, so it seems like you could be maybe on a beach or something’. But actually it’s in a forest kind of atmosphere; it’s in the backyard of my friend’s house. A lot of the things on it and around me are like anecdotes to my life and to the band: the surfboard belongs to Jonathan, the drummer and guitarist of the band, the cassette tapes are Jason’s, the little figurine is the mascot of my favorite baseball team – it’s called the “Cleveland Slider” of the Cleveland Indians. And there is the Sudanese flag, traditional Sudanese slippers or this little blue pamphlet is a picture of the guy who owns this house. So there are a lot of personal things. The album is about my personal experiences – it is a very personal album – so I figured I express that with the cover.

So you say, it’s a very personal album. When hearing it, it still seems there are a lot of different topics on it.
Well, the thing that I wanted to do, when I started the album, is that I wanted to write about my experiences as a person in this world. My experiences of being Sudanese, living in the United States, religion…I also stopped drinking a year and a half ago…just things like that. I wanted personal things that I was dealing with turn into songs. The reason why I wanted to do that is that I feel like, if I talked about these personal experiences that I had, maybe people could relate to them on their own. They could hear a song and say ‘Oh, I had a similar experience!’ or ‘I get what you’re dealing with’. It’s really ultimately trying to connect with people more.

Are you religious?
Ahm, I don’t know if I’m as religious as I used to be. I feel like religion has really influenced who I am, but as an adult I feel less religious, but I respect it, you know.

When listening to your album and reading the quotes that you gave as “listening advice” to “Life & Livin’ It” – like staying positive and calculatedly being positive in a world full of fears – it seems to fit perfectly as a message during these extreme times. So when did you start writing that album? Did you react to any explicit things going on in the world during this process?
I think it changes every day, you know. I didn’t know what was going to happen with this world while I was writing this album. It was really just my own personal experience with myself. Things are hard for everybody and life is very hard, just trying to figure out who you are. And I think what happened in the last year is that I came more in to myself and I’ve accepted the things that I was scared of. And I think also before all of the crazy shit happened all over the world politically, I felt like there wasn’t much of a positive message in music really. You know, a lot of people use music as some sort of therapy to deal with their own personal issues. And when they do talk about politics it’s always very angry. And I think there’s an alternative for that – there’s a way to talk about those things and address the situations happening in the world in a positive way and influence people positively through that.

Do you think your approach might be taken over even more? Do you think music or other arts will change remarkably through political situations in the future?
I think I am continuing a tradition of artists and musicians who respond positively or respond in a joyful way in a moment of hardship. I think there are probably many other people like me. Maybe they haven’t caught on yet or people haven’t seen that, but when I look at my contemporaries and see how they respond to politics, it makes me understand that maybe there’s also a place for me as well – with a different approach or perspective than them.

So when you say, one way of dealing with these things is embracing positivity – is that something you can do in your personal life as well?
Yeah, absolutely! I think that having a positive mental attitude is important for growth, you know. There are a lot of things in the world that challenge you to be sad. And I’m also not saying that it’s not okay to be sad, you have to be realistic and you have to feel sadness in order to appreciate the good things in the world. You can’t move the bad things away from you and discount them, you have to acknowledge them and accept they’re around. But – you can’t also stay in that negative space, otherwise you’re not going to grow and otherwise you’re not going to be the person that you can be. So what I was hoping to do with this album is acknowledge that there’s a bunch of bullshit all over the world, but also respond to it in a positive way and inspire people to be positive about it.

And still your record is not joyful and positive all the time – the way you make music has a very positive and lively vibe, but then there’s also often that kind of a mixture where it does seem to sad and positive at the same time…for example in the song “Passenger”.
Yeah, that’s a perfect example, because “Passenger” is a song that kind of acknowledges the state that you can be in within a religion, where you allow it to just let you go through your life, you know. You take a backseat and you have this passive relationship with religion, where you follow all the rules and you do everything that it says to do – and that’s the way you’re going to be a good person, but you’re not. You don’t really grow out of that kind of situation. So it seems like you’re being taken for a ride, it feels like you’re not even being yourself, you’re just kind of a zombie. And it’s important to acknowledge that – specifically for people who have grown up in a similar situation. Because there are a lot of people who feel that way and they just don’t know how to address that issue, because they feel like they might be the only person and they feel like they’re going crazy or something. So my respond was to just talk about it and say: ‘See, this is something that I’ve dealt with and this is an issue that I feel like people have.’ If you want to be a religious person, you have to acknowledge that kind of stuff. But if you don’t want to be a religious person, you also have to acknowledge that this is kind of a thing that happens.

What would you say defines the explicit style of your music? What are the elements that make it joyful in a way?
I think it is everything. The common thread of all the influences I have is that they make me happy. They all make me feel good and joyous, so when I put elements of reggae, African music, country music, soul and psychedelic music into my songs, it’s the element of those musics that make me feel happy, that I bring in to Sinkane. When I listen to it it’s like an overload of information for me, because it’s like ‘Wow, this sound from the pedal steel, mixed with this reggae beat, mixed with this African percussion’ – all make me feel so good, it makes me want to dance and makes me want to be excited, but ultimately I think what is the most joyful thing is the message, you know. And just shoving it down people’s throats that it’s important to be positive and to get together with your friends and support and love one another. When you think and feel, you vibrate and you create this energy and when you vibrate, you attract people. So my thoughts and my feelings are all positive and I’m putting it out there to everyone to tell them that this is how I feel and this is what I want to get out of this relationship with you. And I think it’s working, you know! A lot of people enjoy it and it gives me more fuel to get better. I can only hope that we spread this message over the world.

Do you feel a different reaction to the positivity of your music, depending on different audiences in different countries?
Yes and no – I think with this album people are going to understand the message a lot easier and clearer, but I also think there are some people that just don’t understand when music isn’t so clearly defined and they are like ‘Oh, this is just world music’, you know. It’s unfortunate for them, because there is a lot more to this world than just a title or a genre, you never know what you’re going to get out of it. But that’s that – I feel like this is the clearest message I’ve made and I think it will resonate with a lot of people.

So it’s already your third record and people know you, but often you’re still announced as a fresh newcomer – how do you see your position in the music business?
Yes, it takes a lot of time. And it’s like that everywhere – it’s hard to be a musician and it’s hard to get people to listen to your music. There’s so much music going on in the world right now, more now than ever, especially now that there’s all this streaming stuff… You’re able to listen to new songs every day – for free! – and that is an overload of information every single day! I finished this album and I gave it to my friends and usually within a day they come back and say “Oh I listened to it, I really liked it” – now, none of my friends would listen to it, you know. Because there’s just so much music! You just throw it onto the pile and it just kind of becomes this other thing… That’s okay; I’m not really worried about it. I am going to do this for the rest of my life, so I can’t really get to discouraged now. I am only 33 years old, if I get discouraged now then it’s just going to be really depressing for the rest of my life, you know… I feel like we’re on a really good trajectory and every album is more successful than the next. And if you’re in for the long game and if you’re hoping to do this forever, than this is all that you can hope for. I don’t care about being famous; I don’t care about becoming the next Kanye West or something. I just want to have fun with my friends and I want to play in front of people, who are really excited about the music.

Life & Livin’ It erscheint am 10. Februar 2017 auf City Slang.