Sinkane: Q&A

Sinkane (photo by Chloe Moralez, PR)
by Kara Manning | 02/27/2024 | 10:59am

Sinkane (photo by Chloe Morales-Pazant, PR)

With the release of his slinky, funkadelic new single "We Belong," the title track of Sinkane's forthcoming fifth album, his mission is clear: this new album, We Belong, is a celebration of Blackness in all of its ecstasy, resilience, exultation, and perseverance.

The London-born, Brooklyn-based, Sudanese-American musician, real name Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab, has made one of his most collaborative albums to date, with a new band, called The Message, special guests including Bilal, Hollie Cook, Tru Osborne, and STOUT, and a heightened sense of urgency and import in what Sinkane needs to say. We Belong, released on April 5 via City Slang, is a call for unity and change in the midst of disquieting times. There's real joy here ("How Sweet is Your Love") and more serious turns of contemplation ("Everything Everything"), all lending to the multi-genre spirit of Sinkane's heartfelt expression of both Black diversity and bonding community.

Ahead of Sinkane's North American (and UK) tour — including April 2 and 3 (City Winery), April 4 (Bergen Performing Arts Center) and May 3 (Bowery Ballroom) — FUV asked him a handful of questions over email reflecting our ongoing "Black Music Matters" mission. As we discovered, Sinkane isn't a fan of Black History Month, and his heart breaks that there's not more attention paid to the war in Sudan. He also hopes that his music on We Belong offers a chance to feel — and hear — what Black joy means.

You've described your forthcoming album, We Belong, as a fusion of multiple genres of music important to the legacy of the Black diaspora. Could you expound upon that overall summary of the album and what your vision was for this album, in terms of what was important for you to say, and how you wanted to say it, whether that be lyrically or production-wise?

We Belong is my love letter to Black music, culture and people. It started off as a response to the music that I was listening to: Afrobeats, dancehall, reggae, soul, funk. But it quickly snowballed to something much bigger. When you’re writing music like this, it becomes very easy to speak on the topics so inherent in lives of Black people. Black people always find beauty in the struggle. There’s also our joy, celebration, love and togetherness. I wanted to talk about all of that on this album. I couldn’t do this alone. I had to draw from my community, another thing that is inherent in Black culture. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a wonderful community of musicians and people. It took a village to make this album.

Your single "How Sweet Is Your Love" is pure disco-house-Frankie Knuckles ecstasy, a cloudburst of confetti and love. Why was such an unabashedly positive and hopeful song important for you? 

I wanted to showcase the entire Black experience. Not just what people see in the news. Black joy is celebrated in so many ways. Disco and dance do it in a way that we can all REALLY connect with. Queer Black culture celebrates radical self joy and it is infectious.

On "Everything is Everything," an earlier single, you share vocals with Harlem singer Tru Osborne. It's a song with devastating lyrics about Black pain, evoking the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Botham John and far too many others: "Y'all only know our names from hashtags" and "I want to walk down Second Avenue and not have to worry." You beseech for "tides of change" — how do you personally wish for that change in the United States?

Change in America will mean a complete breakdown of everything that we know. A true understanding and belief that we are all equal and worthy human beings. Not just POC but also LGBTQ+ and anyone who is not part of the one percent. Change means that Black people don’t have to prove themselves to the world time and time again. It is me and my wife walking down the street and people, both Black and white, not looking at us weird because we’re a biracial couple.

What did you and Tru discuss regarding the background of the song, and what it meant to both of you?

Tru and I didn’t really talk about anything with this song. Funny enough, he wasn’t even supposed to sing it! It was me at first! But the moment he stepped into the booth to do the background vocals, he opened his damn mouth and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I couldn’t believe how naturally that man could evoke emotion through his voice. It is just something else. I instantly gave him the song. He looked at the lyrics, then we looked each other in the eye, had an unspoken moment, and he said, “Let’s go.” The rest is history.

Collaborations are incredibly important to you and there are many on this new album, including your band called The Message. Can you talk a bit about your cohorts and what The Message brings to your recorded and live mix?

Sinkane albums are the first part of the conversation. The next part is the live show. That’s when we are really able to stretch out and shine. I named this new live band “The Message” because everyone on stage has something to say. It is a group full of colorful people who love one another and music. They take what I give them to another dimension.

Both Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield have always seemed to be touchstones for you; in the creation of We Belong, or in the whole of your career, what musicians or writers — or even historic figures — have been sources of strength or inspiration? What up-and-coming artists have you been excited to discover?

I am so inspired by bands like Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone, Radiohead, and Talking Heads. Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben, and The Wailers. Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Sa-Ra Creative Partners. And Brittany Howard, Meshell Ndegeocello and L’Rain. Lately, I am obsessed with UK Black music: SAULT,  Ezra Collective, Little Simz, Moses Boyd, and Corinne Bailey Rae. I cannot get enough of all of that music.

Your life has spanned living in Britain, Sudan, and the States. Growing up, I wonder if Black History Month has ever had any meaning for you, whether past or present?

To all Black people, Black History Month is kind of a slap in the face. It feels like a Band-Aid solution to a very big problem. It’s like, “Hey, y’all. Sorry that we used to consider you 3/5ths of a human being. Sorry that we used to consider y’all “property”… And, seriously, THANK YOU for building this nation for free! Why don’t we celebrate you for a month as a gift for your service?” Meanwhile, nothing changes.

In this turbulent time in the United States, what has been most on your mind about the state of the country? What gives you hope — or what keeps you awake at night?

This is a really hard question to answer. There’s hardly any hope these days and I think that everyone in the world is feeling that. The bad guys are winning and they know it and they’re shoving it in all of our faces. I think that the only way is through. And right now we’re in the eye of the storm. It is the hardest part to get through. Once the storm has passed, we’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. I guess maybe that’s the only hope that I have these days. This too shall pass.

Is there any non-profit organization or charities that holds particular meaning for you in 2024? What would that be and why?

New York Food Bank [Food Bank for NYC] always. I would love it if people would pay attention to what is happening in my home country Sudan. It is an absolute travesty. Over five million people have been displaced, hundreds of thousands of people dead (my cousin is among them) and a complete media, internet and communication shut out. All because two warlords are fighting each other for control of a country that is on the verge of collapse. Keep Eyes on Sudan has information and resources for people to peruse. It would be the world to me if anyone reading this makes an effort to learn about Sudan and take action.

- Sinkane
February 2024

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