The Rialto Theatre presents...
Helado Negro, DJ Dirtyverbs
311 E. Congress St.
Tucson, AZ, 85701
Doors 9:00 PM (event ends at 1:00 AM)
This event is 21 and over
Melodically beat-driven and meditatively lyrical, Sinkane's Mean Love rolls like an emotional, existential history of the artist. Ahmed Gallab has created an altogether unique compound of sound, stylistically nostalgic and ultramodern at the same time. From Gallab's childhood in Sudan there is a Pan-African influence of popular Sudanese music and haqibah, as well as distinct horn and synth arrangements more common to East Africa. After fleeing Sudan when his father– a journalist and politician – was exiled following a military coup in 1989, Ahmed was faced with a stark contrast when he moved to the predominantly white, Mormon center of Provo, Utah. While this and a subsequent move to Ohio caused a further sense of alienation in a young Gallab, it was also part of the inspiration for the path he walks as an artist. This background merges with the lessons learned from Ahmed's stints with obsessive craftsmen such as Caribou, Yeasayer and Of Montreal, and especially the monumental task he underwent as musical director of 'ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor.' Gallab excavated and arranged a treasure trove of lost classics from the West African synth-pioneer to put together a now legendary series of performances. Alongside his band-mates in Sinkane (jaytram on drums, Ish Montgomery on bass, Jonny Lam on guitar), he also brought on guests Damon Albarn, David Byrne, The Lijadu Sisters, Money Mark and members of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, and Blood Orange.
The experiences from this on-going endeavor contribute to the collective feel of the record. It is Gallab's uncanny ability to embrace and assemble a huge history as pure and generous modern-musical expressions. The funky, infectious brasslines of "New Name," as well as the Equatorial "Young Trouble" are prime examples of the incredible aptitude of Sinkane's songwriting. Employing the architecture of pop, and a forward-thinking approach to its classic instrumentation, the vibes of Sinkane's deep-groove past remain intact, in full force. We could lay down a bunch of extra buzzwords to this collection, of course; there are doses of West African funk slow-burners, a noir blaxploitation cool, and a more afro-centric Curtis Mayfield is present, specifically in album standout "Hold Tight." In the end, these songs GIVE, and its up to you to take what you want.
You can detect a surprising country soul rising in the title track, "Mean Love", and also in the hauntingly beautiful slide guitar work of "Galley Boys." Both tunes are reminiscent of a time when soul heavyweights such as James Carr and Solomon Burke recorded juke joint anthems. The title track sits proudly on the same mantelpiece as an updated version of those classics, a tearjerker that will grip the imaginative heart of modern concertgoers and collectors of dusty soul on vinyl.
It takes a disciplined mind as well as an artistic heart to curate so many influences and disseminate them wisely. Despite studying strategic communications and Arabic, and being raised in an academic and political household, Gallab professes that his aim is "to create truly universal music," rather than issue any political statements. However, there are undeniable political aspects to his songs: The very name of the band is after a misheard pronunciation of Joseph Cinqué, a West African who led a revolt against slave traders after being captured in 1839. This longing and verve for his African origins emanates from the album in a particularly poignant sequence of songs. When "Son" undulates with the mantra, "I will not forget where I came from" and segues into the Sudanese Pop melody of "Omdurman," (Gallab's hometown in Sudan) it is the romantic recapturing of a lost childhood memory, and a jolt to the listener's solar plexus. Says lyricist Greg Lofaro,"I think, to a lot of secular folks, the most compelling argument for heaven is the thought of seeing loved ones. In this case, the melody informed the content very specifically and I knew I wanted to speak graciously, not bitterly, about that. Ahmed typically names sketches for what they're inspired by or remind him of. Often, that's something Sudanese ("Warm Spell" had been called "Kurdufan" for awhile). So, it was fitting and we kept the title Omdurman." This song also has a live quality – when you hear in on record, it precipitates the image of a live hymn, a promise that begs for an audience call and response, "Where, if I should settle down, will I finally settle?"
Mean Love is an album with an open door invitation, and gets deeper with every listen. You hear it right away in the blistering opening track, "How We Be." An instant classic, sounding like a lost gem of soul funk, a sweetness of voice alongside honey bass lines, the tune grips you and makes you wish for a dance floor, while enticing you to stay for the whole journey of the album.
Paul Gilroy, the path-breaking scholar and historian of the music of the Black Atlantic diaspora, once wrote that a primary characteristic of black cross-Atlantic creativity is a "desire to transcend both the structures of the nation state and constraints of ethnicity and national particularity." Nothing could be more precise about the cross-disciplined, multifaceted second album by Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab, aka Sinkane: Mean Love.
The son of Ecuadorean immigrants, Helado Negro was born in South Florida in 1980. His childhood was suffused with tropical heat, humidity, hurricanes, all refracted with the rich sounds and colors of the various Latin American cultures of southern Florida. Pounding bass beats from passing cars, boom boxes bouncing down the block, and late-night parties called "peñas" provided a foundation for Helado Negro's interest in sound and lifelong quest to discover the unlimited variety of objects used to produce music. Most recently he created a new collaborative group with Julianna Barwick called OMBRE releasing their debut album in 2012 called Believe You Me. Helado Negro has worked with Bear in Heaven mixing their Pitchfork's Best New Music album Beast Rest Forth Mouth. He also produced Prefuse 73's 2010 album Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian.
If that was not enough, Helado Negro's other projects include ROM, Epstein, and Helado Negro. Epstein is Helado Negro's "beats and loops" project, a friendly beast born of the MPC sampler. Epstein's wildly prolific output, including a series of digital releases, full-lengths, and a remix album, is a gauzy, sunny kind of dancemusic that references DJ mixing, summertime blockparties, and mellow compositional noise. Helado Negro came together when Helado Negro moved to New York in 2006 (he now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn home). The early group concept grew through projects and experiments Roberto would conduct while recording himself and others in his home studio. Loops, computer synthesis, record samples, and live instruments provided the foundation for the first full-length, Awe Owe, a vibrant, shimmering, full-band Latin psyche-funk-folk epic.
After taking time to create a new series of sound sculptures, release a Helado Negro EP, score one film and begin work on another (based around his animation), Helado Negro recently holed up in a cabin in the Connecticut woods to record the follow-up to Awe Owe. Canta Lechuza is the latest incarnation of Helado Negro and its sound may come as a surprise. Gone is the big collaborative group jam of previous work and in its place is Helado-Negro-as-intimate-solo-project. Canta Lechuza feels like the place it was recorded—its vocals and beats and synth lines coming together to craft a warm, buoyant, comforting electronic dance sound, an effortless, personal thing anchored by Helado Negro's warm, earthy, conversational voice. Based around field recordings and live instrumentation fed through computer processing, Canta Lechuza is a thoroughly modern affair, a thing drenched in texture and mood. The album has the feeling of hibernation, of satisfying days spent keeping warm next to the fire, of hot tea and technology as constant companions. It's the kind of record that feels good to hear alone, but throw it on at your next danceparty and you will have no complaints. This is the world of Helado Negro. Keep an eye on him. He'll always have a surprise for you…