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Published: 2012/04/05
by Grace Beehler

Ahmed Gallab: From Sikane to Yeasayer (and Back)

How is your own live band set up?

In the past there have been many different incarnations. There have been eight people playing with horns and stuff. I’m constructing the band now and it’s going to be a four piece. There are going to be drums, bass, guitar and keys with a lot of computer stuff too. A lot of electronic elements as well. In the live show I’ll play a lot of guitar and sing.

How has your music progressed since your earlier work? What were your goals for this album?

The past few records have been much more abstract. The songs have been longer. The range elements are a lot looser. They haven’t relied on vocals at all. With this record I’ve started to make it much more concise. I guess with every record we’re trying to make it much more concise and user-friendly. So that’s the big difference.

What I want to do is play – the shows that I have played have been good but they haven’t quite been the shows I’ve wanted to play. They haven’t had the energy I’ve wanted to conjure up with a meaning. I’d really like to play more shows and to see where that goes. I also really enjoy playing in Yeasayer. I play with this other group, with a girl called Eleanor Freidberger. I play drums for her. I really enjoy playing with her. It’s gonna be a full schedule but I’d like to be up at the level of anyone else. To be something people can take seriously.

Who are some of your musical influences? From where do you draw inspiration?

I think there is a lot of African music. I grew up listening to African music and I’m from Sudan so I try to always have that in my music. I’m a really big fan of Impulse! Records-era jazz, like Archie Shepp and Alice Coltrane… The later Ornette Coleman stuff, too. It’s really interesting, spiritual jazz. I try to conjure up that kind of sentiment and spirit with the music that I make. A lot of afro-Cuban stuff, lots of Funkadelic, and Parliament and Bill Withers. Kind of some dub music, as well.

I’ve been listening to this DJ mix that my friend put me on about a year about – DJ Lengua, Mota Mix, it’s this mix of music called Rebajada. It’s a Mexican DJ style, which is playing Cumbia 45s on 33s so it sounds really languid and slow and chopped and screwed. It’s just an hour-long mix of that stuff. It’s an amazing experience to listen to. It sounds really interesting. The beats are so slow but so groovy and you get lost in the music.

I saw on your Twitter that you stopped by Occupy Wall Street. What are your thoughts on the movement?

I think it’s something that should be taken seriously. I really don’t…I’m really careful about involving myself politically with things. It’s very important to understand what you are supporting. Looking at OWS from an outside perspective – meaning I’m not very involved with it that much – it’s definitely something that needs to be taken seriously. It’s a worthy and important subject to think about for everyone. A lot of the times when I think about politics – my father was really political – politics re-veered his life in a really drastic way. I get anxious when I talk about it. OWS is probably one of the first times I’ve been able to see the immediacy of the cause and where I am with my life. It’s a true movement like any political movement has been since the 60s. I’m interested to see it and learn more about it and see where it goes.

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