There is nothing pro forma about Sinkane. Each beat of the drum feels conspicuously different, and every synth filter from the Sudanese frontman, Ahmed Gallab, seems increasingly spirited. More importantly though, there's a kind of looseness and warmth about the new album that I find incredibly engaging. Mean Love is a record that has a distinct temperament without drawing its powers from just one sound; it purposefully struts from reggae grooves to slow-burning guitar threading, twists tightly around electro-pop and lively tropicalia while still managing to wrap it all up in a cozy blanket of spaghetti western country twangs. It's a marvel just to be able to say that. It sounds sort of like shuffling genres about in your hand like a set of dice, but here, it always seems to land on an even number.

The only matter of fact is that Gallab once played in Yeasayer, Caribou and Of Montreal as a session drummer. But I get a kick out of this factoid; because whatever Gallab's backstory, Mean Love and all its encircling themes of family, growing up, and love, is a remarkably accomplished take on pop music. According to him he's gained six and a half years more experience collaborating with this caliber of musician. With a Yeasayer-like facility he injects a little funk into their worldbeat without turning it into worldbeat-funk, because for him, "There isn't such a thing as world music, there is such a thing as music from all around the world." We discuss if love is really mean, working with the likes of David Byrne, and his own made up language.

So first off, I really want to know where you were when music first found you - that moment when you knew that creating music was something that you absolutely had to do?

When I was really young even before I moved to the United States from Sudan, my family would have religious gatherings at our house and they were always introduced with a line of drummers. My grandfather would recite these religious stories but it sounded like he was singing and it kinda gave me my first understanding of what music and melody could do to you spiritually. From that point on I knew I didn't want to do anything else.

Do those multiple tags of "world music" "free jazz" "funk rock" "Sudanese pop" that follow you around sit well with you?

I really don't like the term "world music," I think it's a cop-out and what people say when they are just being lazy. All it really does is sell short the beauty of that kind of music all over the world. There isn't such a thing as world music there is such a thing as music from all around the world.

But how do you incorporate sounds like that without imitating a genre?

I think you write and you create what you know and I'm being brutally honest about what I do. In the one case of being a black person I have some sort of diplomatic immunity when I'm making any sort of ethnic style of music. No one can call me out!

I mean if you look at your album as a whole it's difficult to say that it's just world music anyway, there are layers of Sudanese on the bottom, then you build it up with some really great funk and doo-wop '50s jazz. How do people usually react to your music?

I think that people find it indefinable, which is fun for me because I appreciate that I can't be pigeonholed into one sort of genre. People react to it in a very primal way. I like to make uplifting sounding music and I think that really translates into people enjoying it for what it's worth. On Mars, I found this common theme between African music and reggae, soul and country western, in that the people that make that music all come from a similar place and they have a similar understanding of urgency and oppression and longing. That's kind of heady way of connecting the dots between all of those genres.

A lot of your creative energy in the past has been focused on other bands. How do you compare that feeling to playing your own material now?

Well I do miss playing with other bands a lot, but it's kind of like I graduated from college and I have my first job. I've changed exponentially, I'm more focused and I know what I want to do. I have gained six and half years more experience, so now I'm less scared. The first two records were really ambitious, but now I'm on a clearer path.

How important is it to have another songwriter to bounce ideas off?

I'm really open to feedback and I think that whenever I show something to someone that's unfinished it clears my mind up and allows me to get through whatever rut I'm in. It also makes me really competitive because sometimes people just don't understand my music. It makes me even more competitive to get it right and to make it work in such a way that I can convince them and convert them into the idea of what I'm trying to do. When I decided I wanted a pedal steel on top of a country music song, a lot of people didn't understand it but I was influenced from people who have done that in the past, like Willie Nelson.

I also think what you did with the William Onyeabor tribute last year was a triumph. That level of collaboration must have been insane, so what made you take on the role of curator?

I know that it was something that was beyond my grasp you know? They asked me to be the musical director a year ago and they told me who they had in mind in being involved in the project and I instantly decided. I figured if I could do this and I could do it well then I have nothing ahead of me that I can't accomplish. Ultimately I wanted to put myself in the same arena of the people that I was working with, I wanted Damon Albarn, David Byrne, Money Mark, Alexis from Hot Chip to all look at me and say that this guy is on the level of our creative energy. I had a really good time and it's still ongoing.

Did you literally tell David Byrne, "Play this piano or guitar part here"?

Yeah I had to! It was tough at times, but those are the people that you have to give a certain level of creative freedom to. Damon Albarn isn't going to play exactly what you want him to play, but if there's something that's not happening that needs to happen then it would be silly to not at least say something about it. I think there's a lot of mutual respect and they saw the amount of pressure that was put upon me, and I also saw the opportunity for an immense amount of collaboration and I think with those two things combined we created something very special.

When did you get the first inkling of the kind of atmosphere you wanted to create with Mean Love?

Pretty much right after Mars was finished I wanted to flush out those ideas a bit more. They were still abstract, but I wanted it all to be more personal and accentuate the grooves but also challenge myself to create songs that were within the common pop music structure. I wanted to write songs with chorus's, verse's and bridges and not weird meandering arrangements, so right after Mars I dove deep and it was a big challenge.

Does the name have any real implication, beyond the obvious statement about love?

I'm actually learning as the record is being released, and the songs are being digested by people all over the world. I really like the sentiment of love and the idea of it used in pop music. I don't care to write a love song. The idea of love is interesting to me so I thought how could I relate it to the relationship with yourself, life throws a lot of challenges at you and pushes you, and it can be tough but at the end of the day you really enjoy being alive. Mean Love is more tough love. I'm an oldest child and tend to be the bigger brother to people and show tough love to a lot of my friends. I'm airing out all my grievances and it's very therapeutic.

Even in the track 'Mean Love', you say, "Just 'coz you show up every day, doesn't mean that I think you'll stay." So, are you talking to yourself?

I think I'm addressing life in general - you only live once, so live life to the fullest. You're not gonna be here forever, you're going to die.


[laughs] I know. It's an interesting way to understand that about yourself.

'Omdurman', which I know is a city in Sudan, really stood out and it closes the album too.

If I showed you all my demo's song titles are usually related to the thing that it reminds me of, an African word or a made up word. 'Omdurman' is very similar to 'arm Spell' where it has a very distinct Sudanese feel. 'Warm Spell' was initially called 'Kurdufan', which is a province in Sudan where my father grew up. 'Omdurman' reminded me so much of my family, and the lyrics are about my relationship to family too.

You ask an important question here; "Will I finally settle down?" There's that dichotomy of asking an important question with an uplifting sound. Did you do that to counter darker feelings?

One of the things that's been really tough for me to deal with in my life is that I've travelled and lived in many different places and I've never really had a place I can truly call home. I don't consider myself 100% Sudanese or 100% American. In touring and learning about the world, the only thing I could say about myself is that I'm a global citizen. It's really romantic to say, but it doesn't do much to center you. So there's that question - "if I am to settle down - will I settle?" It just became a mantra. Who knows what will happen, but that song was one way of dealing with it.

If you feel unsettled what do you do to centre you?

I used to be a very narrow minded person and the interesting thing about travelling is that people cope in different ways and you can learn a lot from them. A family member of mine told me if I were to go find where he grew up it would be nothing but a bunch of bush and that I need to understand that I'm never going to find where I will settle, it will find me.

So what does one of the track titles 'Yacha' mean?

The song was originally called 'You Can Have It All', which is the chorus, and it's kind of a mouthful so it just turned into Yacha. A lot of things in the world of Sinkane are made up, when I was younger I used to just make up words it makes life a bit more interesting. I'd like to think that my contribution to the music world is to create a vocabulary that wasn't there before.

Start speaking Sinkane! We need to come up with some sort of hand movement

Yeah that comes next, give me a few more records and then I'll do that!

So you're signed with one of my favourite labels on the planet DFA. Was it ever an option to collaborate with fellow DFA-ers, like so many others have?

I'm relatively new to the whole DFA family and it's a little bit unfortunate, but what happened was that everyone on that label became incredibly successful and I think people wanted to take a bit of a breather. So when I came on and I finished touring on my first album, it was important for me to meet everyone because I hadn't met anyone at the label and to this day I've met James Murphy a handful of times. I think I've had one conversation with him since I joined the label, so I put together the Christmas party where we all played. Through those types of parties I've gotten to know everyone, but as I was working on this record I didn't really know many of the people.

Do you have plans to work with anyone? I think you and Nancy [Whang] would be brilliant together

I would love to work with everyone, I remember Juan asked me to come in whilst he was recording his latest record with Nancy, and it just didn't work out we were just so busy. Now it's a bit stronger like a family vibe with me involved. Pat's band Museum Of Love played their first show a few months ago and I played drums for them, so it's all there and we're very much a family still I just never had the opportunity because I was the new guy, and I still am the new guy. I'm looking forward to the future where we can all collaborate more.

Sinkane's new album, Mean Love, is out now via City Slang (DFA Records in North America). You can stream it by heading here.