It seems that everything about Ahmed Gallab, known by his musical moniker Sinkane, is boundary-breaking and universal. The musician hails from Sudan but is based in London, and his music is extensively inclusive, with Sinkane incorporating influences from genres ranging from shoegazing to R&B, krautrock to reggae, funk to contemporary Sudanese pop music and much more. In addition to his boundless exploration of myriad musical stylings, Sinkane has worked with a remarkable array of musicians, from Canadian electronica musician Caribou to indie rockers Born Ruffians and Eleanor Friedberger. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the musician’s association with the Atomic Bomb! Band, a touring supergroup who perform the works of recently-deceased Nigerian electro-funk innovator William Onyeabor, composed of such legends as Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame, Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark, and many more. Indeed, Sinkane’s musical endeavours are impressive on many fronts, but perhaps most significantly with regards to their inclusivity and latitude. As ever, the musician’s latest solo release, Life & Livin’ It, boasts the broad influences that fans of Sinkane’s approach to songwriting have come to expect, but perhaps in their most profound and well-assembled format yet. For the most part, Sinkane’s keen curiosity that instigates his expansive musical experimentations is notably more focussed, grounded and, overall, accessible than on perhaps any solo album of his thus far in his career. The end product is a record that refuses to sacrifice its obscure and eclectic foundations, whilst nonetheless exhibiting such qualities in a perfectly palpable fashion.
The collision of cultures on Life & Livin’ It is evident from the very first moments of the record. The opening track, Deadweight, is initiated by a bubbling synthesizer line that runs throughout the duration of the song, before a thumping desert blues groove kicks in that could certainly have made itself onto a Tinariwen or Songhoy Blues record. The colourful use of both melody and rhythm on this track is subtle, revealing some of its finer details to the listener after numerous plays The light pattering of the bongos, for instance, is ever-present, but much more central to the African rhythmic structure during the first verse than as the song progresses. The eerie keyboard melody that breaks up the first two verses carries a noticeably psychedelic and acid rock vibe that could have been worked into a song by The Doors in another life. Often the most interesting realisation when listening to Deadweight, and many other cuts on Life & Livin’ It, is the fact that, taken out of context, many of these melodic licks and rhythmic patterns could be applied in a radically different form across a plethora of musical styles.
U’Huh sees the continued application of vast musical textures, with this one specifically assuming a more distinct jazz-funk approach. The horns that carry the main melody are accompanied by a wah guitar, all of which is very typical of artists who have fused together jazz and funk sensibilities in the past. However, once again, the rhythm is highly reminiscent of numerous different styles of music from Africa, although it seems to evoke elements primarily of Eastern African genres, as opposed to the Malian influence on Deadweight. Nevertheless, the call-and-answer vocal lines convey more influence from the music of Mali and other Western African countries, and I must say that the primary lyrical refrain is so similar to that of Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, and is even delivered in a similar fashion, to the point that I simply have to accept that I’ll always end up thinking of that song as U’Huh is playing. I also hear a distinct influence from William Onyeabor on the whacky synth solo that breaks out after the first chorus. I’m also reminded of Onyeabor slightly by the bright and somewhat dreamy electronics on Favorite Song, which are accompanied by another guitar lick that has an air of Malian desert rock surrounding it. This song is one of the more straightforward on the album, in terms of both structure and stylistic origins, and the result is a highly accessible tune that could easily see airtime on many a mainstream radio station, which is particularly apt given the lyrical refrain of “Play my favorite song”.
As the record progresses, recurring musical themes start to become apparent, and it must be said that Sinkane utilises many of the same tricks across the bulk of Life & Livin’ It, which is apparent early on in the record and arguably diminishes the impact of some later cuts in the tracklisting ever so slightly. That’s not to say that these songs are any less strong necessarily, but with them all contained on the same record, the overarching stylistic themes and influences reappear as to make not every song feel as explorative as some of its predecessors. Telephone stands out as a significant exception to this observation, as the elements of African music are much less prominent, instead being mostly substituted for influences appearing courtesy of various rock-based genres, most notably psychedelic rock, electronic rock and krautrock. Whilst the fluttering synth is still clearly pulled from Onyeabor’s playbook, the garage rock guitar riffs on Telephone could have appeared on an Omar Rodríguez-López album, which is even more apt given that Roman Lips, Rodríguez-López’s latest record, boasted prominent electronic elements. As a result, this is another example of Sinkane’s heightened ability to incorporate his expansive and audacious ideas into a much more palpable format.
Life & Livin’ It is amongst Sinkane’s stronger records, but for slightly different reasons to his previous releases. I certainly see Sinkane’s far-reaching musical inspirations as aligning in perhaps their most accessible format yet, creating for an eclectic release with a healthy amount of appeal beyond those seeking abstract releases. Although Sinkane does utilise many of his same sleights of hand on this record as he has on his previous albums, with the same tricks recurring even within the context of Life & Livin’ It, the allure of this record isn’t as complex as the music contained on it. Indeed, the simple album title somewhat reflects the nature of the music on the album and how it’s best to be enjoyed. Of course, these songs feature inventive and sometimes challenging meetings of various styles of music, but the end product is one that can be enjoyed rather simply, without a need to thoroughly scrutinise every nook and cranny of the album. As it happens, the finer details hidden in many of these songs find their way to the listener naturally anyway, so Life & Livin’ It is seemingly an album that can be enjoyed either as a psychedelic adventure through the marrying of African and Western musical stylings, or simply as the fun and euphoric record that comes as a result of this.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10