The Many Faces of Ahmed Gallab
It has been a remarkable year for Ahmed Gallab. Next week he is releasing his second solo record, Mean Love, as Sinkane, but when I met him two months ago at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, he was there as musical director of the incredible ATOMIC BOMB! project bringing to life the music of Nigerian mystic man William Onyeabor – a function in which he had to conduct a diverse group of prominent musicians, incl. David Byrne, Damon Albarn, The Lijadu Sisters, Pat Mahoney, Alexis Taylor and Money Mark. “I wanted an eclectic group of musicians who all needed to have some kind of connection to William Onyeabor. They needed to be inspired by him,” Ahmed explains when I ask him about his criteria for selecting the musicians for the project.
Asked about his introduction to Onyeabor, Ahmed tells me that the first he heard of Onyeabor was his Better Change Your Mind song that appeared on the Nigeria 70 compilation back in 2007. Back then, Onyeabor’s pioneering synth-funk was still difficult to access but it started having an increased influence on Ahmed’s own music. In December last year, Luaka Bop’s released the brilliant Who is William Onyeabor? compilation and soon after Ahmed was asked by Luaka Bop’s Eric Welles Nystrom to be in charge of the ATOMIC BOMB! endeavor.
Ahmed and the ATOMIC BOMB! project performing Onyeabor’s Fantastic Man on The Tonight Show.
In parallel with ATOMIC BOMB! project, Ahmed has somehow found time to complete his new Sinkane record, Mean Love, which he describes as being more pop oriented, transcendental, and focused on singing compared to his 2012 debut LP, Mars. The range of influences that can be detected on Mean Love is impressive and yet consistent. William Onyeabor’s and other West African funk and pop can be heard along with American soul and jazz and classic Sudanese pop.
Ahmed is currently based in Brooklyn but was born in Omdurman, Sudan, on the western banks of the Nile opposite the capital Khartoum. The magnificent closing track on Mean Love is named after his hometown, while he on Son croons that “I will not forget where I came from.” I asked Ahmed about the kind of Sudanese music he grew up with and he mentions Sudanese legends as Mohamed Wardi, Said Kalifa and Abdel Gadel Salim. “My family had many musicians among our close friends both in Sudan and in the US,” he adds. “I also listened to lot’s of Ethiopian and Somali music. To me all East African music speak together and is inspired by each other.”
Listen to How We Be from Mean Love below and hurry up while the album is still available as first listen on NPR. A 30 minute explosion of the Atomic Bomb! show at the Lowlands Festival in Netherlands is available here, and do not miss out on the Fantastic Man film documenting the William Onyeabor myth and the search for William in Nigeria. While the eccentric William has now been found, the search for his missing Italian girlfriend is ongoing, and you can follow the Luaka Bop detective’s struggles here.
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