Sinkane, the main musical outlet of Ahmed Gallab, is a band of the world. His music evokes sounds from every corner of the earth, blending them together with more finesse and care than most other musical groups. You can get kraut rock, Sudanese pop, soul, and intense funk in one song and feel like they always belonged together. It’s difficult and a little silly to pin down Gallab to any sound or location though, as he has traveled and live across the globe. But considering the first Sinkane show happened many years ago right here in Chicago, it’s safe to say our city holds a special spot in Gallab’s heart. His love for Chicago was incredibly clear as the eight person band threw down the funkiest dance songs for over an hour and half at Lincoln Hall last week.
Before Sinkane took the stage, local musical artists Mayowa and DJ Pharoah got the crowd going with a set of cool hip hop. Right from the start of his set, Mayowa was huge ball of energy. He was dead set on getting the crowd bouncing along to his songs, rushing to the edge of the stage and rapping directly into the crowd. His flow moved as quickly as he did, adding to the crowd’s hype. Mayawa has a natural magnetic personality that comes through his performance, getting the crowd to inch closer to the stage and dance along the way.
Towards the end of Mayowa lengthy set, a slight audio glitch slowed things down a bit, but his charisma held strong. His songs are delve deep into love and heartbreak and Mayowa was able to keep those raw emotions poring out. At one point he elicited the help of another local performer, Sydney Jay, asking her to come up to the stage from the crowd. The two performers worked incredibly well together, giving the crowd the first big highlight of the night.
When it came time for Sinkane to command the stage, I’m not sure if anyone was prepared for what was to come. The band has a reputation for insanely fun performances, but they seem to always surpass expectations. I personally didn’t think the show would run as long as it did, but much like the rest of the audience, I was overjoyed. Ahmed Gallab and the seven other members of Sinkane emerged onto the stage and slipped into “Deadweight”, Life & Livin’ It opening track. The electronic blips that start the song slinked through the room before the rest of the band joined in. The song’s smooth transition to pounding drums and rising guitars felt revelatory, like the life of the song was blossoming right in front the crowd. Gallab crooned and bellowed with a positively joyous intensity, immediately setting the tone for the night.
Although Gallab is at the center of the band, the rest of the group shines just as bright. There was a beautiful cohesion between every member, working together through jam sessions that extended the songs’ rhythms. The horn section blared with conviction as bassist Ish Montgomery and guitarist Jonny Lam stood shoulder to shoulder grooving along while Elenna Canlas’ keys sparkled throughout the night. Amanda Khiri took the lead on a few songs and there was a point when drummer Jason Trammell and Gallab switched spots. It all felt fluid, especially as they slowly built upon each others’ instrumentation to blazing heights. Lam in particular had some mind-bending solos that shifted all focus to him as his fingers moved across his guitar’s string in an unfathomable way.
Sinkane played through the entirety of Life & Livin’ It during the show, splitting it up with choice cuts from Mean Love and Mars. The whole set felt like one long song as the live renditions were filled with those lively jam sessions that embraced the songs melodies in new and exciting ways. The disco influence of “Telephone” felt dirtier and more reflective of the band’s off the cuff playing. “Favorite Song”, which was already prime example of the joyfulness found in Sinkane’s latest album, was raised on a pedestal. The simplicity in its repeating question “Won’t you play my favorite song?” was turned into much needed certainty. The crowd danced, clapped, and sang along as if every song was their favorite. It was such a joyous expression of musical community that was lead perfectly by Sinkane.
When they weren’t jamming out, Gallab addressed the crowd with a smile on his face as he thanked them for sharing such positive vibes so he could reflect them back. It was easy to just feel happy around the sound of Gallab’s voice singing “Uh Huh” which exalt lyrics “We’re gonna be alright” and the Arabic phrase “Kulu shi tamaam” that translates to “everything is great”. Sinkane was filled with the sort of hope everyone needs and they doled it out with massive success.
With time was winding down, Gallab invited the crowd to sing along to final song of the set. As he start and messed up the lyrics he laughed, pointing out his mistake that seemed due entirely to his enjoyment of the night. After a loop of the opening melodies, “How We Be”, the lead single of Mean Love, got on its way. One of the strongest songs in Sinkane’s discography, “How We Be” captured everyone’s attention as the heavenly ooos of the chorus were harmonized gently by the crowd and band, adding a tenderness tot he already beatific and funky song.
Sinkane’s encore extended the dance party for just a bit longer, matching the intensity of the rest of the night. “Fire” got things rolling again with Khiri back on lead vocals. The group took their time, expanding on “Jeeper Creeper” by rolling out jam sessions that grew longer and more exceptional with every passing moment. “See the light above, feel the lightness of the wave” sang Gallab as “Warm Spell” marked the end of the show. The crowd cheered for the familiar song and let themselves light up in the song’s inviting glow. As the night came to end and Sinkane left the stage for the final time, it was pretty obvious everyone at Lincoln Hall would live life fuller after that performance.
All photos by Julian Ramirez