The world of indie rock can be a very homogeneous place. So when a band like Ahmed Gallab's Sinkane comes along, it tends to stand out.
Taking the name from a misheard lyric in a Kanye West song, Sinkane has cultivated a remarkably unique sound - patching together elements of '60s psychedelia, vintage soul, krautrock experimentation and electro, with rhythms and melodies inspired by Gallab's Sudanese heritage.
Until recently the multi-instrumentalist and singer Gallab was best known as a hired hand for a variety of high profile indie acts, touring with Of Montreal, Yeasayer and Caribou among others.
But that has changed with the release of his DFA Records-issued LP Mars; critics and fans are taking notice of the finely constructed grooves that are embedded with overtly Sudanese textures.
Album reviews and interviews with Sinkane are often dominated by inquiries into the role Gallab's African DNA plays in his musical craft. I have to admit, I couldn't resist asking the singer myself when we had the opportunity to speak.
"That question is interesting to me," Gallab said, warily. "It's really just asking 'How has being yourself influenced the things you do?' The African melodies and drum patterns you hear are second nature vibes that come out of me. It's not like I'm trying - I'm just doing."
Gallab was only 5 years old when his family emigrated from the North African nation of Sudan to the United States, driven away by a coup that threatened the safety and livelihood of his politician father.
I asked Gallab if he was comfortable embracing his Sudanese culture while coming of age in the United States."Not really. I spent a lot of time following other people," he said. "I was incredibly insecure and embarrassed about who I was. It had a lot to do with the fact that I didn't have anyone around who was like me. I still feel a bit different, but I'm OK with it now. I like it."
Indeed he does. Gallab has clearly immersed himself in the musical culture of his homeland. When I asked the singer if he cared to mention any influential Sudanese artists, he quickly reeled off the following list. "Jiddu Taj El-Sir Ali Sheikh, Nancy Ajaj, Ayman Alrubo, Mohammad Al-Amin, Sher Habeel, Mohommad Wardi, El-Bilabil, Abdelkarim El-Kabli, Mustafa Al-Sunni - there are so many others. I love it all."
There's also the influence of his family, Gallab's mother and grandfather were musicians. "My grandfather taught me how to be passionate about what I do. When he sang you couldn't do anything other than listen. He was also incredibly ambitious and, because of that, he achieved a lot." Gallab says, adding "my mother is the most important woman in my life. She is always playing music at home."
Did growing up in this culturally rich environment cement his destiny in the music world? Gallab says yes. "I always knew I was a musician. I don't know how I knew, but it was always something I thought about. When I was 11 years old, I played my first show."
It's slightly misleading to overemphasize the African elements on Mars. Overall the album sounds right at home alongside the dance-floor friendly indie grooves for which the DFA label has become famous. I asked Gallab if he tailored the album to fit the label's aesthetic? "No, I didn't. DFA approached me to release Mars about two years after the record was recorded, mixed and mastered," Gallab said.
He seems a bit mystified by all the probing inquiries into his creative process, insisting again that his sound is not the product of a calculated method. "I'm pretty heady at times and I overanalyze everything. But when I am making music I stop thinking and just feel."
Have really enjoyed your writings here recently, Kyle. The last few columns you've done have…
Relevant: "I am not the Tsarnaevs" http://www.salon.com/2013/04/22/i_am_not_t…