Ahmed Gallab is a
multitasking experimentalist extraordinaire. Oh, and he’s also your new
favorite indie rock drummer.
BY JOEL OLIPHINT
If Ahmed Gallab is aware that he’s becoming one of indie
rock’s go-to drummers, he’s certainly not letting it go to his head. “I’m
probably the luckiest person in the world,” he says. “I wake up every day and
just kinda pinch myself.”
Things weren’t so great about a year ago, though. Gallab had
just set out on tour with his Columbus, Ohio, band, Sinkane, when his van went
kaput, sending him home on the second day dejected and frustrated. But on his
way to a job interview, Gallab got a call that changed everything.
“Before I went to the interview I checked my e-mail, and I
had a mass e-mail from [Dan Snaith of Caribou] saying that their drummer broke
his wrist and they needed a replacement,” he says. “So before I left I e-mailed
him my phone number, and he called me five minutes later as I was driving. He
said, ‘We need you here tonight,’ so I just turned the car around and packed my
Gallab learned the songs in less than 24 hours and played
the show the next night flawlessly. “It was super human,” Snaith says. And it
was a dream come true for Gallab, who had poured his heart out to Snaith after
handing him a CD at a 2007 concert. Snaith says he was “blown away to hear
Ahmed’s CD, which had big slabs of free jazz, Krautrock, African music, ambient
On the Caribou tour, things began snowballing. In Athens, Georgia,
Of Montreal approached Gallab after a show and asked him to join the band on
the spot. Despite not owning one of their records, he agreed and embarked on
the band’s fall tour – fully embracing the cartoonish costumes – after Caribou
finished up. (Of Montreal
is touring as a five-piece now.)
These days, you can catch Gallab playing with Ontario’s Born Ruffians.
Right as his stint with Of Montreal came to a close, Born Ruffians needed a
drummer, and having toured the UK
with Caribou last year, the band enlisted Gallab to jump on their tour with
Franz Ferdinand in April and May.
And while Gallab plays the role of replacement-drummer
extraordinaire for the indie rock aristocracy, Sinkane is still alive and well,
releasing the four-song Color Voice on Emergency Umbrella Records last spring
and following it up with a longer, more ambitious self-titled record this past
Sinkane is essentially a solo project, as Gallab (now based
in New York)
writes all the songs and plays just about every instrument on the records. But
his singular, psychedelic vision incorporates everything from jazz to shoegaze,
classic rock to experimentalists like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. His African
heritage peeks through often, as well. At six, Gallab fled to the U.S. from Sudan with his family after a
military coup overthrew the democratic government there; his journalist father
had spoken out against the government several times.
Where the mostly instrumental Color Voice used
electronic loops as a base – sounding a bit like Caribou’s weird little
brother, in a good way – Sinkane is more organic, with more singing and liberal
amounts of swirly, wah-soaked guitar. It’s also the first release where Gallab’s
love of classic rock appears, especially on the 10-minute epic “Blown” and the
amusingly-titled album closer “Totally Hot But Pretty Awesome,” which is
unmistakably indebted to Pink Floyd. Really, the only constants on Sinkane’s
records are drones and big, bombastic drums.
Suffice it to say, you won’t hear anything else like it this
year, even if there’s another Sinkane release. Gallab is already talking about
his next album, which he hopes to finish by the end of the summer. Until then,
though, don’t be surprised if you see ol’ Ahmed up there on stage with one of
your favorite bands.