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Sinkane puts poppy spin on eclectic

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

On his previous two records, musician Ahmed Gallab says he was like “a kid in a sandbox” experimenting with his four favorite musical genres: African traditional music, American soul, country and reggae.

With “Life and Livin’ It,” his latest album under the professional name Sinkane, he finally figured out what those styles all had in common.

“The people who created those musics were all oppressed,” says Gallab, who will play the Arab-American National Museum on Friday. “Poor white folks, poor black folks in the United States, Jamaican slaves, and poor African people … All of that music had the same earnestness and immediate quality to it that felt the same.”

That breakthrough allowed Gallab to make a record that aimed to streamline his favorite sounds into something he describes as “seamless and effortless.” The resulting album is indeed a wildly eclectic but accessibly poppy set of tunes that blend sonic influences ranging from funky bass riffs to Nashville pedal steel guitar.

But for Gallab, the process of finding the commonalities between his musical interests was also closely intertwined with developing a new sense of security in his own identity. Gallab, whose parents were both Sudanese expats and college professors, spent his childhood in locales ranging from London to Utah.

“It kind of created a lot of confusion with identity, race and religion for me,” he says.

In writing “Life and Livin’ It,” Gallab says he came to terms with his scattered background, accepting the diverse range of his experience rather than trying to pin himself down to one part of it. He expresses a particular sense of newfound pride in the decade he spent living in Kent, Ohio, starting at age 13. Gallab’s family originally moved to Ohio so his father could take an appointment at Hiram College.

Gallab met Greg Lofaro, with whom he still collaborates on music today, while he lived in Ohio. But he says his time in the Midwest also forced him to step up his artistic pursuits in a way that he might not have, had he been afforded the more plentiful opportunities for exposure and advancement available in a larger cultural center.

“In Ohio, if you wanted to be good, you had to step up to the plate and you had to do everything yourself,” Gallab says. “I feel like that is the bedrock of my work ethic and I got it from Ohio. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

As Gallab has settled into his own identity he’s been acutely aware that his struggle isn’t unique, and he expresses interest in using his experience to help others. Before his performance at the Arab-American National Museum, Gallab will lead a youth workshop on art and identity. A moderator will interview Gallab about his experiences and facilitate discussion with the youth in attendance.

Gallab says he wants to help kids who’ve had experiences similar to his feel like they’re “not alone.”

“They can kind of go about their ways a bit more confidently, understanding that this isn’t a bad place to be as far as not understanding who you are,” he says. “There are other people who can give you guidance and advice in that world.”

Sinkane

Youth workshop:

6:30 p.m. Friday

Full-band performance:

8 p.m. Friday

Arab-American National Museum

13624 Michigan Ave.

Dearborn

Tickets $15

(313) 582-2266

arabamericanmuseum.org