Ahmed Gallab of Sinkane Tells Us How Trump's Travel Ban Affected His Family
The singer-songwriter's message of unity hopes to inspire youth activists.
Photo by Aaron Barksdale
Ahmed Gallab is the frontman for Sinkane, a soulful band with a funky sound that you could easily twerk to or feel comfortable playing in front of your mom. The good natured lyrics have a "were-all-in-this-together" vibe that is a sharp departure from equally hot bangers that center around drinking lean and club culture. Neither genre is better than the other, but it's clear that Gallab has created his own lane with Sinkane and he's using it to spread a message of universalism.
This past weekend the band performed at Afropunk Music Festival, which attracted tens of thousands of socially conscious music-lovers looking for artists that know how to put on a good show and stand for a cause. The 33-year-old musician once said that he used his music as form of escapism, but now sees that art and activism are inherently linked.
"For the longest time I really didn't want to be political or have that much of a social awareness message in my art because I always though of art as an escape from the world," Gallab told VICE Impact. "But I feel like the more that I do it, the more I understand where my place is in the world of art, [and] I feel like they're one in the same."
"People like me who from similar situations, be it their family came here on asylum or political exile or as a part of the second generation diaspora, they grew up confused—they don't know where exactly their identity falls."
As a London-born, Muslim-American citizen of Sudanese heritage, Gallab embodies a seemingly infinite amount of cultural identities, which he admitted confused him at a young age.
"My experience [as an immigrant] was good but also confusing. People like me who from similar situations, be it their family came here on asylum or political exile or as a part of the second generation diaspora, they grew up confused—they don't know where exactly their identity falls," he said.
His family was granted asylum in the United States in 1989 when he was just five-years-old, and eventually he went through the process of becoming an American citizen. Now that his relative fame has given him a platform, Gallab want to represent for a community of Americans that grew-up similar to him.
"It's really important for me to project universalism—to represent people who come from a similar place as me," he said. "East Africans who grew up outside of their homeland who have always felt like they've struggled with their identity as an African, as an American, as a European or whatever—there's a lot of people like that."
As a Sudanese-immigrant, Gallab still has family members in Sudan and was personally impacted by President Trump's travel ban in January. He had a cousin that was granted a green card, which according to Gallab is no easy feat.
"Not everyone is a bad person. When you institute a travel ban because of a few bad guys it's just ridiculous—it's ignorant."
"Everyone in Sudan wants to leave because there's nothing there, and they want opportunity," Gallab said. "The United States grants people opportunity by giving them a green card lottery or giving my family asylum, so when Trump's ban was put into place it was an insult."
After arriving in the US, Gallab's cousin learned that his father died, but he was unable to leave the country to visit his mother because Sudan was one of the six Muslim-majority countries that the president blocked with his executive order.
"Not everyone is a bad person. When you institute a travel ban because of a few bad guys it's just ridiculous—it's ignorant," Gallab said.
Despite the hardships he and his family have had to endure, Gallab remains hopeful and his optimistic outlook comes through in his music. The song "U'huh" off his most recent album Life and Living is an upbeat bop that repeats the lyrics "We're all gonna be alright" and "We've always a-been alright," in a chant of positivity vaguely reminiscent of a similar Kendrick Lamar lyric.
"What I was trying to say [in that song] is that it's always been shitty—life's always been hard for everyone," Gallab said. "Although it's been tough we've come together and dealt with these situations and come out on top. As long as we try, we're going to be alright"
Gallab said that he's inspired by the organizing efforts of the current generation and believes that future of activism will diverse and idiosyncratic for each person.
"I feel like people understand that there isn't just one way to be active or there isn't one way to be political and just by being themselves and being confident in who they are is enough to be active."
Stay up to date with Sinkane's music by following him on social media for more information on future tour dates and new releases. Also, learn more about the grassroots activism happening in Sudan in its partnership with the United Nations sustainable development goals .