Sinkane's musical message spreads to Mass MoCA

NORTH ADAMS — Sinkane's history begins with a misunderstanding.

When he was working on his first record, Ahmed Gallab was listening to Kanye West's record, "College Dropout." During "Never Let Me Down," rapper J. Ivy makes a reference to Joseph Cinque, a West African who led a slave revolt on the ship, Amistad, during the 19th century. Gallab heard "Cinqu " as "Sinkane."

"I thought to myself: I wonder who this Sinkane is," Gallab recalled during a telephone interview on Thursday.

Gallab began building a god-like character in his head before an internet search soon revealed the actual allusion. But what if Gallab could keep that imagined person alive somehow?

"Maybe I should just start that story," he remembered thinking.

The latest sonic chapter of Sinkane, which will perform as a five-piece band on Saturday night at Mass MoCA's Club B10, is difficult to categorize.

"It's a funky rock band," Gallab said.

But that's just what he tells people in search of labels. Gallab prefers traversing uncharted musical terrain, drawing from reggae, soul, country and rock influences. He certainly has experience exploring new places.

Born in London, Gallab moved with his family to Sudan before they sought asylum in the U.S. Boston, Utah and Ohio were all home at different points, with Gallab returning to Sudan every summer. He felt Sinkane's last album, "Life & Livin' It" (2017), identified with people in the East African nation, as well as Sudanese-Americans. Others who might be feeling a sense of disconnection or foreignness, as Gallab often did during his youth, can find solace in the songs, too, he said. "U'Huh," one of the record's most popular tracks, is an upbeat, brassy tune that both nods to Gallab's Sudanese roots and conveys his message of hope. The refrain repeats "kulu shi tamaam," an Arabic phrase meaning, "Everything is great!" according to Sinkane's website.

"I think ultimately, with Sinkane, [my] to connect with people," Gallab said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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