Welcome to the new Terrific Music Column, now penned by yours truly, Zach Pollakoff. In this, our first installment, Terrific takes Brooklyn’s own Ahmed Gallab, aka Sinkane, for a typical Williamsburg Sunday: record shopping and brunch.
I meet Ahmed at Academy Records in Williamsburg on a blustery Sunday–only days after winter has settled firmly in–and immediately begin on the “New Arrivals” bins of used records up front.
Though a permanent Gowanus resident, it’s rare to find Ahmed home long enough to get together for an interview. His life recently has been comprised of a string of world tours with a variety of different bands. A drummer for Yeasayer and Eleanor Friedberger’s solo project, Ahmed has also played with Caribou and Born Ruffians and is a former member of Of Montreal. However this month, Ahmed has a chance to regroup at home, work on his own project, Sinkane, and begin promoting his forthcoming album, Mars (release date TBD). More on that later.
After making our selections, two each, we part ways in the record store–Ahmed b-lining for the small African music section, where he flips casually through the bin, the records making no noise as they stack from one side to the other. The shop continues to blast a bizarre horror movie soundtrack, and after we’ve had a chance to quickly peruse each aisle of vinyl, we decide to head out.
Ahmed, armed with his two new footlongs–Scalping The Guru by El Jesus de Magico, a difficult-to-come-by LP by friends from Columbus, and a “Giant 45” by reggae artist Pancho Alphonso–suggests the nearby Café Colette and we hurriedly head there for a much-needed Sunday brunch.
Over Americanos, I inquire about his parents. Both professors at Arizona State University, his mother teaches Middle Eastern studies, focusing on feminism, and his father specializes in African Studies. In many ways, he admits, Mars is inspired by them.
Ahmed was born in London while his father was working at the Sudanese embassy. When they moved back to Sudan, many of his family members were heavily involved with the Sudanese revolution. The Gallab family fled in 1989 and sought refuge in the US.
There, Ahmed’s parents found jobs at Hiram College outside of Cleveland, and at home, Ahmed grew up on politics and jazz. Miles Davis, Benny Carter, and Pharaoh Sanders most commonly drifted from the family stereo, instilling Ahmed with a distinctive, worldly palate.
Like many teenagers growing up in Ohio in the 90’s and early 2000’s, Ahmed found an escape in punk rock and hardcore, and soon, he became a mainstay in the scene as a drummer. Playing for a handful of bands throughout high school and college, Ahmed developed a strong taste for Krautrock, and in 2008 he released Color Voice, the first record under his moniker, Sinkane, on Emergency Umbrella Records.
Earlier that year, Ahmed had driven up from Ohio State in Columbus to Cleveland to see his friend’s band open for Caribou, one of Ahmed’s longtime favorites. While backstage, he handed a copy of his soon-to-be-released demos to Caribou’s Dan Snaith, and over the next few months, the two kept in touch over e-mail–Snaith a clear fan.
One day, en route to a job interview, Ahmed received an urgent e-mail from Snaith; Caribou’s drummer had broken his wrist and they needed a replacement. Ahmed responded with his phone number and, in minutes, received a call. That night, Ahmed packed his things, flew to Raleigh, and became Caribou’s new touring drummer.
On the road, Ahmed was introduced to Of Montreal in Athens, who would later hire him for a few tours as their drummer. And later, at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Ahmed met Yeasayer, with whom he is still a touring drummer.
While on the topic of ATP, I ask about the Caribou Vibration Ensemble, an iteration of Caribou that employs both Keiran Hebden of Four Tet and Marshall Allen, the saxophone player for the seminal and highly-influential Sun Ra Arkestra. The group’s ATP live LP is a personal favorite of last year and, according to Ahmed, “the best musical experience [he’s] ever had.”
On his new Sinkane LP, Mars, Ahmed explores his fascination with free jazz, his Sudanese roots, and his new home in Brooklyn, delving deep into the hard-to-describe feeling of being new in New York. Collaborating with members of both Yeasayer and Twin Shadow, the genre-bending LP will tick boxes for both the World Music department and the Krautrock vinyl bins alike. It’s born in London, reared in Sudan, and like nothing in the indie rock canon I’ve heard yet.