Classic rock and Afrobeat collide
Sinkane is a band led by U.S.-via-Sudan musician Ahmed Gallab. Besides his work with Sinkane, Gallab is also musical director of the Atomic Bomb! Band, a touring supergroup that plays the music of Nigerian electro-funk pioneer William Onyeabor. The influence of Onyeabor’s music, a quirky mix of African rhythms and electronics, can be heard in Sinkane’s work.
Sinkane’s latest album takes its title from a French word meaning “to be removed from one’s habitual surroundings.” Like many immigrants to the United States, Gallab has had to resolve two “halves” of himself. Gallab wants the album to represent his love for both sides. The album cover sees Gallab lounging in an ornate garden chair, surrounded by a hodgepodge of greenery and ornaments of which most are African or Africa-inspired. Gallab looks contented, with perhaps a hint of pride. Compared to his previous work, Gallab is reaching a good middle ground between the intimacy of writing from personal experience and the accessibility of speaking in generalities.
Sonically, the album is a nearly overwhelming blend of Afrobeat and old-school psychedelic rock, with tinges of funk and reggae. There are complex African rhythms, but also plenty of synthesizers and classic rock and roll. Compared to the band’s previous work, Dépaysé ups everything – production, energy and volume.
For an example of Sinkane’s newfound brashness, look no further than the opener “Everybody.” The track is a dense sensory overload, jam-packed with funk rhythms, whirring synthesizers, wailing guitars, horns and stadium-sized group vocals. The topic and theme are just as brash. “Everybody” smacks the listener in the face with its unabashed perspective right out of the gate, with a woman crying out, “Black, white, brown, he, she – all means we!” The song deftly moves through multiple phases. Overall, it is a great socio-political rocker.
There are other highlights in the tracklist as well. The title track features an awesome guitar solo that sounds like it was played by Carlos Santana himself. The second half features gargantuan chorus vocals that could shake the Earth. “Mango” is a great closer to the album. It has a reggae-inspired rhythm, and features delicate, chirping tropical synths that are the epitome of cuteness. The lyrics are rapturous about someone being the greatest thing in Gallab’s life. The song also encapsulates the album’s main theme of love.
Although there are many noteworthy songs, this album is not a home run, as there are flaws. A moderate flaw with the album is Gallab’s voice. Gallab does not abide by the sensibilities of American Top 40. His raw delivery does not attempt vibrato and sometimes sounds flat. While the confidence is very impressive, the flat delivery does become a turnoff. While Gallab’s vocals do have personality, they are not captivating enough to carry the emotional weight of a song such as “Be Here Now.” Next, the album is inconsistent in the second half in regards to songwriting and themes. For a couple of songs, Gallab sings about struggles with his faith. Finally, since Sinkane plays with so many styles and sounds, the album feels scattershot and incohesive. Sinkane jumps from chugging and rhythmically complex rock and roll on “The Searching” to a reggae-synthpop fusion on “Mango.”
The album displays a very competent fusion of the ’60s and ’70s sounds, a fusion that perhaps could only have been accomplished in the modern age. While Gallab’s voice is not the best, and despite an unfocused and scattershot feel, Sinkane’s great energy, good songwriting, captivating production choices and pertinent lyrics and themes make this a solid listen.