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Sudanese-American Musician Sinkane in Conversation & Performance

Web ExclusiveApril 10, 2018
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Musician Ahmed Gallab, aka Sinkane, recently stopped by the Democracy Now! studios to perform and talk about making music as a Sudanese-American artist in the age of Trump. The influential music site Pitchfork described Gallab’s music, saying, “If any artist deserves to swerve around a borderless Earth with a real World Passport, it’s the London-born, Sudanese artist Ahmed Gallab. Listen to his catalog under the Sinkane moniker and you’ll hear fragments of sub-Saharan pop, shoegaze, afro-rock, electronica, krautrock, and everything in between—all melded into his own funky blend.” Ahmed Gallab also heads the Atomic Bomb! Band, which pays tribute to the legendary Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined now by the band Sinkane, led by the Sudanese-American musician Ahmed Gallab. The influential music site Pitchfork described Gallab’s music, saying, “If any artist deserves to swerve around a borderless Earth with a real World Passport, it’s the London-born, Sudanese artist Ahmed Gallab. Listen to his catalog under the Sinkane moniker and you’ll hear fragments of sub-Saharan pop, shoegaze, afro-rock, electronica, krautrock, and everything in between—all melded into his own funky blend.” Ahmed Gallab also heads The Atomic Bomb! Band, which pays tribute to legendary Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor. Sinkane’s latest record, Life & Livin’ It.

Well, today, Ahmed Gallab and Sinkane join us here on Democracy Now!, as they perform in our studio “U’Huh.”

SINKANE: [performing “U’Huh”]

Well, I’m the first to say
We’re all gonna be all right
Been feeling that way
We’re all gonna be all right

It’s always been this way
We’ve always a-been all right
There ain’t no golden days
We’ve always a-been all right

And kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
We’re all gonna be all right

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the band Sinkane, led by the Sudanese-American musician Ahmed Gallab.

Ahmed, welcome to Democracy Now!

AHMED GALLAB: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Wow! That was great.

AHMED GALLAB: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I’m glad you think things are going fine, u’huh.

AHMED GALLAB: Well, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that song.

AHMED GALLAB: You know, I think that people like me, and I think the rest of the United States, needs some sort of inspiration, you know? And I think that what I really wanted to say is, you know, times are tough right now, but it’s always been that way, you know? You can talk to any person from any generation, and they’ll tell you about the tough times during their time, you know. And what I’ve realized is we’ve gotten through all of that stuff, and the reason why is because we’ve always had hope. And I think that it’s important for me to have that hope for people who are like me, who are dealing with stuff, and also people who are discouraged right now.

AMY GOODMAN: You say in the song, “If we illuminate ourselves, we’ll overcome.”

AHMED GALLAB: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that.

AHMED GALLAB: Well, that’s what I mean. I think that if we—if we have hope and we truly believe that things are going to be all right, you know, we will overcome through all of the tough times, through the darkness and through all of the terrible things that we’re reading in the news, you know? And we need to stick together as a family, as a community, as people who want things to be better.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you choose your band’s name, Sinkane?

AHMED GALLAB: Sinkane is a misheard word, actually. I was listening to a lot of Kanye West when I started the band, and there was a song of his called “Never Let Me Down,” on his album The College Dropout. And in the song, there’s a lyric that says, “I want to give us us free like Cinqué.” I misheard “Cinqué” as Sinkane, and I thought to myself, “Who is this Sinkane? Who is person he’s talking about? He must be this monolithic African god who inspired the entire continent of Africa, whose story has been passed down from one generation to the next through folklore and brought over to the United States through the slave trade and so on.” And I never thought to myself that I should look it up on the internet, until many weeks later. When I finally did, I realized I completely misheard what he was talking about. And he was speaking of Joseph Cinqué, who was a slave who led the revolt on the Amistad ship. And I had just finished my album, my first album, and I needed a name, and it was Google-proof. And I figured, “Maybe I’ll just be Sinkane.”

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about when you started Sinkane, and talk about your band and what you represent.

AHMED GALLAB: I started the band in 2007, and it was right after a lot of other bands that I had played in had broken up for one reason or another. I needed to do something musical. You know, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do my entire life and couldn’t really live without it. And I thought to myself, “What if I explore all these ideas and these interests that I have? I’ve never really been able to do that on my own. Maybe I should just do something that’s ultimately mine.” And so, I called a friend, and I asked him to record this music that I had made.

And through that process, I realized I was learning a lot about myself and who I really was. You know, as a first-generation American who came here from Sudan, living in the United States and also going back to Sudan and living there, I had a lot of issues with identity and who—who am I? Am I American? Am I Sudanese? And through this project, I’ve been able to really explore my identity and understand my duality and really have—like come to peace with my duality.

And along the way, my bandmates have also had the opportunity to do the same. You know, and we—this band has become the ultimate testament of the American dream. We’re all dreamers. You know, all of us come from many different walks of life, many different places, from the world and the United States, you know? And we are tied together by this music, that we really feel and we see ourselves in. So it’s been a really amazing experience for me understanding who I am and coming to peace with my duality, but it’s also been the greatest showcase of America to the rest of the world. You know, we are a people who are colorful, you know? And we inspire through that, you know, when you can see us all coexist with one another and be excited and play this music that we love and just be inspired by one another.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about where you were born, who your parents were and how you came to the United States and where you came from.

AHMED GALLAB: OK. I was born in London, England. My dad was a diplomat working for the Sudanese Embassy there. We soon moved back to Sudan. We lived there for about five, six years. And in 1989, the current leader of Sudan now, Omar al-Bashir, overthrew the government through a military coup. And my father was affiliated with the government, and we happened to be in the United States while he was studying. And we gained asylum here, because a lot of his friends were disappearing or being killed. And so, I came here when I was 5 years old, thinking that it was just going to be one year, and we’re going to go back to Sudan. And we stayed.

And we had to start all over. My parents went back to school. And we moved from one place to another. And after a couple of years, my mother and my sister and I would go back to Sudan and visit our family in Sudan every summer, so I’d spend three months out of the year in Sudan, come back to the United States for school.

And it really kind of shaped who I am, you know, and it’s a lot—it was a very confusing time, growing up, because I didn’t know my place in the world, as an American or as a Sudanese person. You know, I’d go back to Sudan, and people wouldn’t really accept me as a fully Sudanese person, because I didn’t live there. And I’d be in the United States, and people wouldn’t really understand who I was or what my identity was, because I wasn’t fully American. But, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Do people respond to you differently as African-American versus African? Do you see a difference there?

AHMED GALLAB: Yes, absolutely—well, I don’t see much of a difference, you know, because I feel like I connect with many different people from all over the world, you know, because I’ve been able to travel a lot and experience the world, and it’s allowed me to experience the world with an open mind. You know, I never lived anywhere for more than four years until I moved to New York almost 10 years ago. So, I grew up meeting lots of different kinds of young people who lived in many different places, all over the United States, whether it was Africa or the United States or the U.K. or wherever I was. And, to me, I saw similarity in all these different people. We all experience things in the same way. We all love and hate or feel nostalgic or sad in a similar way, you know? And we connect to things in a very—viscerally, in a very similar way. But a lot of people didn’t understand me, because I wasn’t quite like them, you know, whether it’s some of my white friends or some of my African-American friends growing up, or some of my Sudanese friends. You know, there are a lot of different people who didn’t quite understand it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to “U’Huh.” You so smoothly move from English into Arabic and back, and I wanted to play a little of the song and the Arabic.

SINKANE: [performing “U’Huh”]

There ain’t no golden days
We’ve always a-been all right

And kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
We’re all gonna be all right

And kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
As long we try
We’re all gonna be all right

If we illuminate ourselves
We’ll overcome
Find something to love
And love someone

To my sisters who ain’t
We’re all gonna make this right
My brothers, losing strength
We’re all gonna make it right

We don’t need be saved
We’ve always a-been all right
We’ll make our own way
We’ve always a-been all right

And kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
We’re all gonna be all right

And kulu shi tamaam
Kulu shi tamaam
Everything is fine
We’re all gonna be all right

We know shadows until
Our light goes out
It’s no wonder
We live in doubt

But if we illuminate ourselves
We’ll overcome
Find something to love
And love someone

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the song “U’Huh,” and it’s from Sinkane’s latest album, Life & Livin’ It. Talk about your grandfather, his music, and talk about how it influences you.

AHMED GALLAB: My grandfather, Tag El-Sir Ali Sheikh, Allah yarhamak, he was a really famous and well-respected Muslim cleric in Sudan. He had a mosque named after him, and would have these really great Sufi gatherings in Sudan, centered around the birth of the prophet Muhammad or other religious holidays. And he, him with a few other people, would recite religious scripture in this sing-songy way. There are a lot of Sufi rituals where there’s a call and response, where a person sings, and then the crowd responds, or the people who you’re doing it with will respond back to you.

As a kid, I would go to these. I would be in Sudan and go to these. And I would have these overwhelming tantric experiences, where I felt—I felt so moved by his singing, you know? And I remember almost hallucinating at times and feeling this overwhelming sense of joy and happiness and calm, you know? And that really allowed me to understand spirituality in this really beautiful way. And I’ve been able to, or I aim to, take that feeling that I had, and try to reappropriate it into the music that I do.

AMY GOODMAN: You just recently, Ahmed, went back to Sudan, as you do, but you went with your whole band?

AHMED GALLAB: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that experience?

AHMED GALLAB: It was the greatest musical experience I’ve ever had. And I think it might have been similar to the rest of the band, you know? I hadn’t been back in Sudan for 11 years, so this is the first time that I was able to go back there as an adult. And I had a few days, before the band came, to just hang out with my family and see Sudan a little bit. And once they came, we all traveled together to the festival. And for the first—

AMY GOODMAN: Where was the festival?

AHMED GALLAB: It was four hours north of Khartoum, the capital, and it was a small town called Karmakol, which is the home town of Tayeb Salih, who’s an author from Sudan. What it allowed me to do is see Sudan for what it truly was, you know? It’s a country made out of many different kinds of people. You know, if you walk around in the marketplace in Sudan, you’ll see many different faces, many different accents, many different kinds of people. And you travel from Khartoum, the capital, down to El-Obeid, which is the capital city of the region Kordofan, or you go up north, in Karmakol, where we did the festival, there are many different kinds of people there. And the generosity and hospitality and just the vibrancy of everyone there is just so apparent, and it’s so exciting. And I didn’t expect to have a concert like that at all. And people were so excited and so happy to be there and dancing and just showing a lot of love. And Sudan is a country made out of a lot of love, and it was really exciting for me to experience that.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how people respond to you as—for example, as you’re performing. You talked about maybe feeling apart from Sudan when you’re—they consider you there Sudanese-American or from Britain or born in Britain. But now you’re this major performer coming back home.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. I think that that went all out the window when we performed. You know, people were just so excited to be there and so excited to enjoy the experience with me, you know, and I was excited to join the experience with them. And I really, truly felt at one with everyone, not just the people of Sudan, but my band. You know, we were all there to represent ourselves as this entity, you know, that like kind of transcends the identity that you have to be one kind of person. You know, we all kind of like feel ourselves in this music and just allow ourselves to be at one with everything around us, you know? And in Sudan, I felt—I really, truly felt that.

AMY GOODMAN: Life & Livin’ It is your latest album. Why did you call it that?

AHMED GALLAB: I mean, the songs are very autobiographical. They’re all about the experiences that I’ve had growing up. I think the more that I write music, the more I’m influenced by experience and things that I’ve dealt with or things that my band has dealt with or we collectively dealt with, that we relate to, that we want to write music about.

And ultimately, I want to connect with people. Music—Sinkane is an opportunity for me to connect with people who are like me, who have grown up in a foreign place where they’re from, and have the issues of identity like I’ve had, or people who just feel different. They don’t have to be Sudanese, or they don’t have to be non-American or whatever. They just feel different from society at large. And they—I just want to show people that they’re not alone. There are a lot of people like us. And you can come to a Sinkane show and be calm and be at peace with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Introduce us to “Favorite Song.”

AHMED GALLAB: “Favorite Song” is a song I wrote about an experience as a DJ. I think a lot of people who DJ run into the situation where people come to them and ask them to play music for—you know, they say, “Well, you know, if you only play this song, the whole place will explode, and everything will be great.” And I like to humor that and play the—you know, a lot of DJs won’t play any requests. But I like to do it. And I remember a specific time playing that, playing someone’s favorite song, and the whole place kind of got excited, you know? It wasn’t just this one person who liked the song. Everyone liked it, you know? And they all kind of like felt like they were floating in just—in like this suspended sense of happiness, you know? And I thought it would be really funny to write a song about it, you know, and just further connect with that experience.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to “Favorite Song,” Sinkane.

SINKANE: [performing “Favorite Song”]

Won’t you take me to that place?
Where I lose my sense of time
Where I escape my fate
When I feel the most alive

Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song
Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song

Cartoons in the night
I don’t wanna wait
I don’t wanna wait
Ya zol ya zain

I wanna feel it in my body
Feel it in my body and feel it in my veins
Oh, lord, I feel it in my body, feel it in my body
Ya zol ya zain

And play my favorite song
My favorite song, play my favorite song
Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song

Woah, when I see you
Woah, when you, you want it to come on
Yes, and you, you want it to come on
Woah, you want it to come on

When I see you
Woah, when you, you want it to come on
Yes, and you, you want it to come on
Woah, you want it to come you

Oh, when I see you
Yes, you, you want it to come on
Woah, when you, you want it to come on
Woah, you want it to come on

Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song
Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song

Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song
Won’t you play my favorite song?
My favorite song, play my favorite song

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sinkane and the Sudanese-American musician Ahmed Gallab, singing “Favorite Song,” from their latest album, Life & Livin’ It. You talked about your grandfather, who was a Muslim leader in Sudan. But you’re heavily influenced by someone else, as well. Talk about William Onyeabor and what he has meant in your life and how you’re trying to spread his music, as well.

AHMED GALLAB: When I was about 23 years old and I was starting Sinkane, I was really trying to figure out a way to transcend the idea of the music where I came from and the music where—and also the music from America, that I was trying to meld together. I wanted to transcend this idea and make something that I felt like I truly related to, a mixture of African and American musics together, or music from all over the world that inspired me. And I just didn’t know how, until I listened to his music. I was introduced to his music through a compilation called World Psychedelic Classics, Volume 3: Love’s a Real Thing, where his song “Better Change Your Mind” was on. And it was the first time that I had heard music that melded the idea of American songs and African songs together, and it truly transcended both of them and created something very unique. And I really related to it. I could feel the Africanness of it, or I could feel the Americanness of it all. And it allowed me to take that inspiration and bring it into my music.

AMY GOODMAN: For a minute, let’s go to William Onyeabor’s “Better Change Your Mind.”

WILLIAM ONYEABOR: [“Better Change Your Mind”]

America, do you ever think this world is yours?
And you, Russia, do you ever think this world is yours?
You, China, do you ever think this world is yours?
And you, Cuba, do you ever think this world is yours?
Canada, do you ever think this world is yours?
And you, Britain, do you ever think this world is yours?

If you’re thinking so, my friends
Better change your mind
If you’re thinking so, my friends
Better change your mind

Because there’s no other one except God who owns this world

AMY GOODMAN: William Onyeabor, his song, “Better Change Your Mind.” “America, you ever think this world is yours? And you, Russia, hey, you ever think this world is yours? China, you ever think this world is yours? Cuba, you ever think this world is yours?” So, you’re hearing this song. It changes your life. And you ultimately go to meet him in Nigeria?

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. Two years ago, I went to his house, spent three days with him in his house. And it was an amazing experience. I think that when you hear people talk about meeting their idols, and they have these like over-the-top stories, it’s kind of hard to connect with them, until you actually have one of those experiences. And that was definitely one of those experiences.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did he—where does he live? Where did he live?

AHMED GALLAB: He lives in Enugu, Nigeria, in this gigantic palace way out in the bush, completely—like maybe 45 minutes away from the city.

AMY GOODMAN: This is in southeastern Nigeria.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah, yeah. It was amazing. Just the trek getting there alone could be a story. But when we got to his house and just hearing his stories and his persona, his larger-than-life persona, it was really amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who he was, because, in fact, he never performed.

AHMED GALLAB: No.

AMY GOODMAN: This was a recording we were listening to.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. William Onyeabor was a businessman. You know, he was a very creative and very intense kind of businessman. And in the late '70s, he wanted to get into the music business. And so he started out by wanting to make a movie and write a soundtrack to a movie. He never made the movie, but he wrote the soundtrack. And that kind of led him to this eight-album journey of recording music. Not only did he record the music himself, he recorded it in his own music studio, state-of-the-art music studio in Enugu, Nigeria, with all of this amazing gear that he had found from all over the world. He played a lot of the instruments himself. And he released all of the music himself on his own record label and pressed all of the records himself in his own record plant. This is something that's way, way ahead of his time. You know, even to this day, you won’t find someone who is that full in to the experience of making a record, you know, and let alone eight records. So, it’s a pretty unbelievable thing that he did, you know? And even when we were there, I saw like remnants of his studio and his record plant hanging out all around his house. It was pretty amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he was also a Christian leader? He built a church?

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah, so, in 1985, he stopped playing music and just became a devout Christian. I mean, I think he was always religious, but in 1985 he really just kind of gave himself to Jesus. And he had his own church. And he would talk to us about it a lot, you know. And that became his focus from that point on, until he passed away last year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Atomic Bomb! Band and what it does.

AHMED GALLAB: So, The Atomic Bomb! Band is led by me, and the core of the band is the Sinkane band: Jonny Lam, Jason Trammell, Ish Montgomery and me. We’re the core of the band. Luaka Bop asked me to put the band together, and said that they were—David Byrne and Damon Albarn and Money Mark from the Beastie Boys were interested in being in this band, but they needed me to lead it. So, me and the boys, we got together, and we learned all of his music. We dissected everything inside and out, and practiced for hours on end to get ready this all-star cast of musicians that wanted to perform with us. Originally, we were told we were just going to do six shows, but it kind of turned into a thing unto itself, you know? It’s been an opportunity for me and my band to play with all of our idols. You know, we played with Pharoah Sanders, who’s one of the reasons that I started the band. We played with Charles Lloyd and, like I said, Damon Albarn and Jamie Lidell and Luke Jenner from The Rapture. And the list kind of just goes on and on and on, all these amazing people we’ve been able to play with. And it’s been a really amazing experience for me to see the music of William Onyeabor connect with so many different people, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to your Atomic Bomb! Band, featuring Sinkane, David Byrne and others, performing “Fantastic Man” by William Onyeabor on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

THE ATOMIC BOMB! BAND: [performing “Fantastic Man”]

Ever since I came to know you yeah
I’ve been telling you how sweet you are
I’ve been telling you how good you are
Now I want you try to tell me how I look
Tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me
Please tell me how I look

You look so good
Fantastic man

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s David Byrne and The Atomic Bomb! Band. You, Ahmed, were playing synthesizer there. And then you had the Lijadu Sisters, the Nigerian singers. Talk about them.

AHMED GALLAB: The Lijadu Sisters were a pretty amazing, you know, twin musical group from Nigeria that had a lot of prominence in the '70s and the ’80s. They were exiled from Nigeria and moved to the United States, to New York, actually, and hadn't performed in a long time. When I was originally asked to do the project, I asked the label, Luaka Bop, if there was any way to get a hold of them. Their music had been gaining some resurgence. You know, like they had a pretty big cult following, and the Knitting Factory Records was reissuing some of their music. And so we got a hold of them. They lived—they still live in New York. And I went over to their house and talked to them about performing with us. And it was an amazing experience, as well. They’re such characters, and they kind of turned into our mothers, you know, throughout the entire process.

AMY GOODMAN: And you performed William Onyeabor’s music in London for the first time ever it was being performed live.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah, at the Barbican, yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to your songs, that you have written, like “Mean Love.” And give us the background of that.

AHMED GALLAB: “Mean Love” is the title track from my previous album. And me and my music partner, Greg Lofaro, who I write a lot of my songs with, with that album, we wanted to kind of relate the sentiment of love, but without talking about loving things like you would regularly hear in a song, you know, loving a person, another person. And we wanted to write a song about the experience you have, the relationship you have with yourself. So, we wrote this song using a lot of musical tropes similar to a lot of doo-wop or things that people are familiar with, but we wanted to write a song that was not about the stereotypical relationship that you have. And so, that’s how that song came about.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Sinkane performing “Mean Love” in Democracy Now!’s studios.

SINKANE: [performing “Mean Love”]

Just ’cause you show up every day
Doesn’t mean that I think you’ll stay
I know you’ll leave
Hell, you’re leaving me
Now, as we speak
And I can’t count on anything
To take your place when you take your leave
You happen once
And heaven knows I’ll stay
You may as well not

You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me
You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me

Just when I think you’re bein’ sweet
I remember you are also brief
I fall in love
And heaven knows it won’t
It won’t last long

You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me
You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean

Here and right now
Time feels too short, right now
But it’s all we’ve got

You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me
You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me

You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me
You know I love you but you’re mean
You know I love you but you’re mean to me

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sinkane performing “Mean Love” in the Democracy Now! studios. Our guest today is Ahmed Gallab. He is the founder of Sinkane, the lead singer, musician, who has been traveling the world with his music. Let’s talk about the world and this time, this era of Trump, President Trump calling Africa these “s—hole countries,” talking about it as a country, of course, not talking about it as a continent.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you release your [album] Life & Livin’ It right at the beginning of the Trump era. I mean, it was a few weeks after Trump was inaugurated.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. That was a really interesting thing. While I was writing the album, you know, I think a lot of people still didn’t believe like that he was going to become president. And when I was writing the song “U’Huh” in particular, I wasn’t really thinking about it as a response to the feelings everyone was having after he became president, but it came to be some sort of anthem or some sort of a calling, you know, after he became president. It was completely by happenstance, and it gave the song new life, and it kind of the image of the band a lot more weight than we had before, you know? The—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, he’s inaugurated—Trump. And within days, he initiates the first travel ban.

AHMED GALLAB: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And your country, Sudan, is on the list.

AHMED GALLAB: Absolutely, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s called the Muslim ban.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you’re Muslim.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. Some of my cousins, who have moved to the United States, were unable to go back to visit family. You know, one of my cousins’ father passed away, and then the travel ban happened, and he wasn’t able to go see his family. So, I was directly influenced by what happened. And if anything, this time has allowed me to become more inspired to do what we do and to tour and to play and to show the world the image of this band and show that we are Americans. And look at us: We’re all very different kinds of people. And that’s what the real America is.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what has it been like performing all of this through this year. There’s not only the first Trump Muslim ban. There’s ban number two. There’s ban number three. And as you travel the country, do you feel any differently? Do you feel you’re treated differently? Or do you feel you have different responsibilities now in an era of Trump?

AHMED GALLAB: I definitely believe that we have a different set of responsibilities now. I feel incredibly inspired to perform and to showcase the image of the band, not just me, of the band, because we are all very different people, and we come from very different places, and we look very differently. But we represent the United States, the true United States, you know? And I always say, I’m not going to allow the image of the U.S. to be this terrible kind of scared place. You know, we are colorful, and we accept people with open hands, and we represent hope, you know? And I don’t necessarily—we don’t necessarily get treated differently when we travel the United States, but people always ask us about the United States when we leave, you know? And as a representative of the United States, I think that it’s important for us to showcase what it truly is, as honestly as possible, you know, this very colorful and beautiful place that accepts people from any ethnicity and that is built from people who come from many different places.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump’s recent comments about Africa being a “s—hole country,” despite the fact that it’s a continent, but I guess the real issue is the “s—hole,” the word that I’m not saying. What does that mean to you, and as you talk to people in Sudan and here and other countries in Africa?

AHMED GALLAB: I think it’s ignorance of what we—who we are, you know? I mean, I think that a lot of people don’t know much about Africa, you know, other than what they see in the news. I mean, a lot of people don’t know much about Sudan at all, you know? And that’s really unfortunate. And for me, what it means for me is just I am now a representative of Sudan. And I—it’s my duty to show people what the culture is about and who we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about who you are. Talk about what we should know about Sudan.

AHMED GALLAB: Sudan is a really beautiful place. It’s one of the first countries to gain independence from the British colonial power, in 1956. Some people would argue it was the first, you know, to gain political power—or, to gain independence. It’s dealt with a lot of issues, you know, in regard to coups overthrowing democracy. But the people of Sudan are very resilient, and they’re very colorful. They’re made up of a lot of different indigenous groups, a lot of different languages, a lot of different religions. And they all coexist, you know?

As Sudan currently stands, you know, in 1989 there was a military coup that overthrew the democratic government, by a man named Omar al-Bashir. He’s currently still in power, you know, almost 30 years later still in power. And in 1989, after that coup, 4 to 7 million people fled the country. There was a giant brain drain. And what that’s amounted to now is, 75 percent of the population of Sudan is 25 years old and under, you know? That’s amazing. And when we went back in December, that youthful energy exists there. There’s a lot of young people doing a lot of amazing things. And they have the internet to see the rest of the world and to see like what they’re doing. And it’s amazing to me to go to a country, where the price of bread is more than the common man can pay for, still have that much resilience, still have that much energy and that much creative—creativity to live in such an impoverished situation.

When we played in Sudan, we played near what they call the Begarawiyah in Meroë, where there are a lot of pyramids. And there are more pyramids in Sudan than there are anywhere in the entire world. And it’s a really beautiful experience to go see these pyramids of the dawn of civilization, that predate the Egyptian pyramids by over 3,000 years, you know? There’s a lot of history in Sudan. There’s a lot of beautiful culture, a lot of amazing music, you know, that exists there. But because of sanctions and because of dictatorships, a lot of people haven’t been able to experience that. But it’s my duty to show the world all of that and to see the beauty within the terrible situation there.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has happened since South Sudan became an independent nation from Sudan in 2011, sliding into civil war soon after that, the oil-rich part of Sudan, 4 million people displaced by the violence?

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. I mean, it’s a place that’s in shambles, you know? I mean, both north and the south are not in the best economic situation right now, you know, but there are—there is a lot of hope. You know, it’s tough for a lot of people, but there’s a lot of hope. Like I said, there’s a lot of youth there, and that energy is huge right now, you know? And a lot of people are just trying to—a lot of people are trying to get by, obviously, you know, but at the same time there are people like me who have been raised outside of Sudan, who are Sudanese, as well, that are trying their best to make people aware of the situation in Sudan in order for us to make a better situation for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed, do you ever think of returning to Sudan as a political leader? You’re seen as a leader when you come back as a musician.

AHMED GALLAB: I don’t know. I mean, we’ll have to see.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are your plans now? You’re cutting a new album?

AHMED GALLAB: Working on a new record and just trying to connect with as many people as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your new album focused on?

AHMED GALLAB: The duality, you know, the identity that I have dealt with, diaspora, you know, at large. A lot of people—I’m a part of the second-generation diaspora, the second-generation African diaspora. And my family came here willingly. And I lived in a place that is foreign from where I come from, you know? And I think the term “diaspora” now is not the same as it used to be. A lot of people feel the influence of diaspora who haven’t dealt with it in the same way, you know? America is a very disparate place these days, and a lot of people kind of feel like they don’t belong or they live in some sort of alternate reality where no one understands what their identity is, you know? And I wanted—I want to discuss that on a new record, and I want to connect with as many people and bring as many people together.

AMY GOODMAN: One last, critical question, Ahmed: What’s your favorite food?

AHMED GALLAB: My favorite food? Barbecue.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbecue!

AHMED GALLAB: Of all things, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I thought you were going to say peanut sauce.

AHMED GALLAB: Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s definitely my favorite food. I take that back. It’s really funny. The one necessity that we have on tour is to eat well. And our guitar player, Jonny Lam, is—we call him the ambassador of good things. Is that what it is? The ambassador of a holistic life on tour. And he always finds the greatest food for us on tour. So, barbecue has been my go-to thing, but I can put peanut sauce on anything and eat it with anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Because, I understand, you’re called the peanut sauce boss.

AHMED GALLAB: Oh, wow! Wow! That’s really interesting that you figured that out. I mean, yeah, I’ll take it. That’s it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I did some investigative digging. We are journalists here at Democracy Now!

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah. Peanut sauce is kind of a fundamental food in Sudan. You know, hot sauce, the Sudanese hot sauce, is made out of peanut butter. And one of my favorite foods from Sudanese food is called agashe, which is like a chicken or lamb kabob that’s pasted with peanut sauce marinade. So, it’s kind of been instilled in me from a very young age.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that about does it.

AHMED GALLAB: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much for spending the time, bringing your band here and answering the most critical question.

AHMED GALLAB: That is amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Gallab is a Sudanese-American musician. His latest album, Life & Livin’ It, but he’s cutting a new one soon, here with his band Sinkane. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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