The Rhythm Foundation bills its annual TransAtlantic Festival as “the sound of the world right now,” a simple description that’s also profoundly accurate.
The 15th-annual, two-day event serves up an eclectic, vibrant lineup that taps into the modern musical pulse of the entire planet, with acts representing Africa, Europe, Latin America and even Miami.
Friday’s performers include A.C.H.E. (the Afro-Cuban House Experiment), featuring Miami’s own tribal-house and Latin DJ Oscar G, plus singer and percussionist Oba Frank Lords and singer Katiahshe; Los Herederos, which was voted Best Latin Band in the New Times’ Best of Miami 2016 poll; and groovy local DJ Lazaro Casanova.
On Saturday night, fans can get down to the Afro Roots World Music Festival and singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sinkane, who is the leader and music director of the Atomic Bomb Band (also featuring David Byrne of the Talking Heads, Damon Albarn of Blur and Money Mark of the Beastie Boys, and members of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip, among many others), which plays the music of elusive Nigerian electro-funk maestro William Onyeabor.
Also on the bill: Malian guitar hero Vieux Farka Toure, aka the “Hendrix of the Sahara”; and the all-female Haitian rara band Symbi Roots, making its U.S. debut.
Sinkane, real name Ahmed Gallab, talked to the Miami Herald about the show, the band’s funky new album (“Life & Livin’ It,” much of which you’ll hear Saturday), his Sudanese roots, and what it’s like to work with David Byrne.
How did you choose your stage name?
It’s a made-up word, actually. I was listening to a Kanye West record when I was starting the project a long time ago, and there was a song called “Never Let Me Down” that I kept going back to, a specific line that was “I wanna give us us free like Sinke,” which kept resonating with me from that song. And I misheard the word “Sinke” as Sinkane, and crafted this really weird story about who I thought this person Sinkane was. And when it came time to pick a name for my band, I thought why don’t I just pick this name – it’s Google-proof, and kind of embodies who I am.
Is it a stage name for you, or the name of the band?
It’s kind of turned into both. At first, Sinkane was just me – I played everything on the records, and I would hire guys to help me flush it out live. But specifically with the last album, I’ve brought my band in to record with me, so it’s turned into a full-scale band.
Will you bring your horn section to Miami?
It’s a six-piece band now – we’ve got two ladies who have joined the fold, and we’re hiring two local guys to do horns from Miami, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Will we hear a lot of stuff from “Life & Livin’ It”?
Yeah, you’ll hear a lot of that – it’s gonna be a big party, it’s a very energetic live show, it’s super-dynamic and we have a lot of fun.
What was your goal going in to the new album?
I really wanted to write about my own personal experiences. Sinkane is all about connecting with people – people who are like me and share some of my experiences. Children of the second-generation diaspora, and also people who aren’t like me, who still share the same experiences or relate to the sentiment and ideas of the songs I write. I felt like in the past, I tried to do that by making all the songs about general ideas, but I realized that if I spoke about very personal things, people would relate to that more. The title of the album states that pretty honestly: “Life & Livin’ It” is pretty much about things I dealt with growing up, my experiences as an African-American, as an African in America, as a Sudanese in America, as an American going back to Sudan. A lot of identity situations, religion, and silly situations that people deal with, like booty calls.
You dabble in so many genres and have worked with so many diverse artists. Do you seek that out, or did it just happen naturally?
I think it just happened naturally. As an artist, you write what you know – you make art from the life that you live, and whatever inspires you goes into your art. I traveled a lot growing up, and have lived in many different places and experienced a lot of duality in my life, and it comes straight-up in my music. It’s very hard as an artist to not be honest, and that comes out in my music.
Would you say there’s a common thread that runs through all of your music?
Yeah, I think it’s like therapy, a catharsis. I get out what I need to get out. You’re seeing me for who I am with every record that I release, the stuff that I’m dealing with personally, and the experiences that I’m having with the world at that time. More than anything, it’s me being an open book to the world.
Did you always want to be a musician?
Yes – I played my first show when I was 11, and no looking back.
Your parents were both college professors – were they skeptical of your career aspirations?
They weren’t skeptical because they were professors – I think they were skeptical because they were two people who brought a family out of a really terrible environment in a hard situation living in Sudan to the land of opportunity, and they wanted the best for their kids. They’ve always been supportive of me, but they wanted me to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the United States that don’t exist in Sudan. And I just had to prove to them that I am doing that – making music is an opportunity that doesn’t really exist in Sudan as it does in the United States, and I can make a name for myself doing that.
Was it intimidating working with David Byrne?
No, it wasn’t, actually. Initially, when I got offered the job, they told me that he was interested in being involved. … The three-month period of getting it all ready was fueled by me wanting to be prepared for him. So me and my band spent 200 hours learning all the music, and just understanding all the songs inside and out, so by the time we did get to him, he had hardly any work to do. And along the way, he would send me emails with little recording clips of him practicing the songs, and say, “Is this OK?” So it was actually pretty easy to work with him, and when we got into the studio to rehearse, he was like your jolly uncle. He came in super-excited with a lot of positive energy, and it made it really easy. It’s not every day that you get to work with David Byrne.
You’re living in New York now – what do you think of Miami?
I love Miami! Everyone up here doesn’t really know much about it because it’s so far away, but I’ve been to Bardot to DJ, and when I was playing with [an indie-rock band], we came down there a few times. I really like that city – I think it’s really fun, and people are really excited at shows. Sometimes you don’t get that kind of excitement. It’s weird to me that it’s slept on. I always feel like it’s gonna be the next town that all the hipsters go to, to start the next art collective thing.
If you go
What: TransAtlantic Festival
Where: North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach rhythmfoundation.com/series/transatlantic-festival/
Info: 305-672-5202 or ; $15, $25 weekend pass