Music

Slice of Life: Sinkane Lives it Up With His Latest Work, 'Life & Livin It'

Sinkane’s counterintuitive approach to making (and performing) his music forces his roots to show unabashedly in ways that are almost punkishly defiant.


Sinkane

Life & Livin' It

Label: City Slang
US Release Date: 2017-02-10
Amazon
iTunes

Sinkane’s often described yet indefinable sound has been a playground of modifiers for many smitten critics. Like his constantly shape-shifting and genre-defying work, collective opinion of the nature of his music seems equally transmutable. The artist has employed everything from punk and psychedelia to R&B and afro-pop (the primary base of his sound) to create a body of work that belongs in a singular niche all its own.

The London-born musician was raised in Sudan, Africa and the US respectively, absorbing influences from either continent before discovering the rebellion to be found in playing and performing music during his teenage years. His earliest works, Sinisterals (2007), Color Voice (2008) and his 2009 self-titled release were the preliminary steps taken before he would undergo the radical tonal shifts of Mars in 2012.

Starting from a principal base of ‘60s-era psychedelic pop and krautrock, Sinkane (born Ahmed Gallab) explored a spacey noodling of guitar atmospherics, most evident on Color Voice and Sinkane. Color Voice opted for semblances of structure, drawing lines with wild abandonment with the control of disciplined playing. Sinkane, however, tuned into frequencies of astral planes, the squalling psychedelic trills challenging the thresholds of the listener’s comfort. These works are notable for how phenomenally sagacious the artist was at such a young age, tapping perceptively into earlier musical resources that lay way before his time.

With Mars, Sinkane pulled an about-face, mining the rhythms and beats of afro-pop (slightly hinted at on Sinkane) for more pop-friendly fare. Opting for a lush recourse from his sometimes abrasive self-titled effort, Mars is the sound of African Makossa legend Manu Dibango discovering (and covering) English art post-punkers Au Pairs. Mars pulls all of the disparate influences of his previous experimental exercises into glass-cut focus. As the artist had once stated, the material here is a much more band-oriented work, with the singer interpolating many live riffs into the studio production to produce a collection that shares the immediacy of stage performance as well as the precision of home recording. On tracks like “Warm Spell”, Sinkane employs the rattles of African percussion with the punk-funk etchings of a jittery guitar line. Polyrhythmic cuts like “Lady C’mon” and “Lovesick” are sun-juiced demonstrations of the singer’s luxurious brand of psychedelia.

Sinkane would continue to develop his fluorescent afro-pop in ways that would expand to encompass other influences, particularly R&B and the smatterings of hip-hop. His 2014 collection of material, Mean Love, honed his songwriting skills into the something that was readily palatable but still laid just outside the pop mainstream. Mean Love is a testing of dynamics in varied sound: the succulent pull of a morphing, elastic bassline, African percussion and Sinkane’s trademark watercoloured falsetto. The approach is even tighter here and the singer articulates his melodious structures with finer definition. The album brings to motion aquatic harmonies that merge, fold and then disintegrate into the flow of the limber grooves.

“How We Be” dives crisply into electro-pop lines; beneath the light synth waves is the grit of guitar jamming funk. The ethereal dub-plod of “Hold Tight” elevates sentiments of lust into the heavenly stratospheres, Sinkane’s croon circling the throbbing funk like a hawk homing in on prey. Still heavily rife with the influences of afro-pop, Mean Love also opens up the vestibules of its structures for other global sounds. Taking cues from Brazilian greats like Antônio Carlos Jobim and Edu Lobo, the singer plies a mutated form of bossa nova on cuts like “Moonstruck”, the strains of these Latin sounds genetically fused and coiled in the DNA strands of Kenyan benga and Assiko African pop. The sun-baked sensuous rush of these ten numbers, thick with the humid and electrified airs of blues and punk, captured the attention and imaginations of audiences everywhere upon its release. Far from a household name, Sinkane still commands presence in a room, as his live shows have often attested.

Around this time, the artist would expand his credentials with his work in the Atomic Bomb! Band, a collective of musicians which included members of Sinkane’s own band and other luminaries like Money Mark, Damon Albarn, David Byrne and jazz legend Pharoah Sanders. The band played their versions of songs by William Onyeabor, a Nigerian musician who made a name for himself making politicized afro-pop funk. As the musical director and performing musician, Sinkane toured globally with the group, landing spots in Australia and Denmark and guest slots on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

His latest release, Life and Livin’ It, pushes beyond the contours of all that has come before it for a shamelessly blithe stab at unadulterated pop. Framing the jubilant afro-pop on the album are the linings of Parliament-era funk. The grooves here are even chunkier, the percussion snappier and the singer an eager and willing runner for the front and centre stage. The investigative noodling of Mars and Mean Love is now distilled to a measured balance of influences. First single “U’Huh” is minimal but heavy, the percussion burbling leisurely like hot springs and the screams of brass accenting an almost raï melody. Its music video, an appropriation of films like Carmen Jones, angles the political motifs into the visual splendour so that Sinkane embodies a Belafonte-spirit of uprising.

Its follow-up single, “Telephone”, begins its run with a new wave melody before picking up traction with the gait of afrobeat. Here, the singer’s airy falsetto plumes like the vapours of melting ice, rising from the brimming heat of the fried funk.

Elsewhere on the album, the strains of electronica pulse more fervently, adding texture to the live instrumentation. The mid-tempo shuffle of opening track “Deadweight” employs a scruffed up and robust groove, referring to the singer’s earlier psychedelic-tipped work. On the bright afrobeat disco of “Favourite Song”, Sinkane simply surrenders to the pop persuasion of dancefloor tradition. “Theme From Life and Livin’ It”, an afro-samba, unites all the vocal registers in the singer’s range so that they harmonize atop the dubby excursions of heavy electro-pop.

Interestingly enough, Sinkane’s music has found an audience beyond the more confining borders of what marketing and record shops have labelled “world music”. Usually relegated to a status in the music industry as a genre considered marginal, world music is often misunderstood, “othered” by record labels working to make artists marketed under this label accessible to Western audiences. Sinkane’s counterintuitive approach to making (and performing) his music forces his roots to show unabashedly in ways that are almost punkishly defiant.

Joyous and fearless at once, it’s an attitude that has carried his work beyond the narrow contraptions of the “world music” label and into an expanse where his music can be appreciated in a way it may not have 20 years ago. Such genre-sidestepping has given him the freedom and mobility to explore the wider gambits of pop music, allowing him to play to the kind of crowds who enjoy Shabazz Palaces and Björk as much as they do Flora Purim and Ismaël Lô. It’s a kind of defiance that is, perhaps, inversely and obliquely political -- an opposition stated principally through sound rather than words.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.