It's soul music! And truly universal; uniting rhythm and styles from our world over to help you move, relate and be, Sinkane’s Mean Love rolls like an emotional, existential history of the artist. Co-produced with long-time Sinkane collaborator and childhood friend Greg Lofaro, Ahmed Gallab has created an altogether unique compound of sound, stylistically nostalgic and ultramodern at the same time. From Gallab’s childhood in Sudan there is a Pan-African influence of popular Sudanese music and haqibah, as well as distinct horn and synth arrangements more common to East Africa. This background merges with the lessons learned from Ahmed‘s stints with obsessive craftsmen such as Caribou, Yeasayer and Of Montreal, and especially the monumental task he underwent as musical director of ‘ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor.’ Gallab excavated and arranged a treasure trove of lost classics from the West African synth-pioneer to put together a now legendary series of performances. Alongside his band-mates in Sinkane (jaytram on drums, Ish Montgomery on bass, Jonny Lam on guitar), he also brought on guests Damon Albarn, David Byrne, The Lijadu Sisters, Money Mark and members of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, and Blood Orange.
The experiences from this on-going endeavor contribute to the collective feel of the record. It is Gallab’s uncanny ability to embrace and assemble a huge history as pure and generous modern-musical expressions. The funky, infectious brasslines of “New Name,” as well as the Equatorial “Young Trouble” are prime examples of the incredible aptitude of Sinkane’s songwriting. Employing the architecture of pop, and a forward-thinking approach to its classic instrumentation, the vibes of Sinkane’s deep-groove past remain intact, in full force. We could lay down a bunch of extra buzzwords to this collection, of course; there are doses of West African funk slow-burners, a noir blaxploitation cool, and a more afro-centric Curtis Mayfield is present, specifically in album standout “Hold Tight.” In the end, these songs GIVE, and its up to you to take what you want.
You can detect a surprising country soul rising in the title track, “Mean Love”, and also in the hauntingly beautiful slide guitar work of “Galley Boys.” Both tunes are reminiscent of a time when soul heavyweights such as James Carr and Solomon Burke recorded juke joint anthems. The title track sits proudly on the same mantelpiece as an updated version of those classics, a tearjerker that will grip the imaginative heart of modern concertgoers and collectors of dusty soul on vinyl.
It takes a disciplined mind as well as an artistic heart to curate so many influences and disseminate them wisely. A longing and verve for his African origins emanates from the album in a particularly poignant sequence of songs. When “Son” undulates with the mantra, “I will not forget where I came from” and segues into the Sudanese Pop melody of “Omdurman,” (Gallab’s hometown in Sudan) it is the romantic recapturing of a lost childhood memory, and a jolt to the listener’s solar plexus. Says lyricist Greg Lofaro,“I think, to a lot of secular folks, the most compelling argument for heaven is the thought of seeing loved ones. In this case, the melody informed the content very specifically and I knew I wanted to speak graciously, not bitterly, about that. Ahmed typically names sketches for what they’re inspired by or remind him of. Often, that’s something Sudanese (“Warm Spell” had been called “Kurdufan” for awhile). So, it was fitting and we kept the title Omdurman.” This song also has a live quality - when you hear in on record, it precipitates the image of a live hymn, a promise that begs for an audience call and response, “Where, if I should settle down, will I finally settle?”
Mean Love is an album with an open door invitation, and gets deeper with every listen. You hear it right away in the blistering opening track, “How We Be.” An instant classic, sounding like a lost gem of soul funk, a sweetness of voice alongside honey bass lines, the tune grips you and makes you wish for a dance floor, while enticing you to stay for the whole journey of the album.
Paul Gilroy, the path-breaking scholar and historian of the music of the Black Atlantic diaspora, once wrote that a primary characteristic of black cross-Atlantic creativity is a “desire to transcend both the structures of the nation state and constraints of ethnicity and national particularity.” Nothing could be more precise about the cross-disciplined, multifaceted second album by Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab, aka Sinkane: Mean Love.