Apr 20, 201708:00 AM
The sounds that move the Crescent City
Diamanda Galas at the Joy and a Conversation with Sinkane
Diamanda Galas at the Joy Theater
Diamanda Galas at the Joy
It's difficult to explain the power that Diamanda Galas brings to the stage or the ostensible content of her performances or even the type of crowd that she draws. This uncertain unquantifiable aspect of her performances is part of the allure of her shows. Everyone in attendance knows that something outstanding is on offer but no one is quite sure what form that thing will take. Galas’ body of work is so interestingly varied that even the “genre” in which she is operating from moment to moment may be in question. Often we talk about the concept of a singer using their voice as an instrument unto itself, nowhere is this more true. Galas’ voice is nothing short of mythic. Her power and range are stunning. She can modulate the minutest harmonic dissonances seemingly at will. From the moment Galas takes the stage it is clear that there is tremendous power coiled within her. On this night she took the stage alone—elegantly dressed in black—and took her seat at the grand piano. There was a still moment where she straightened her carriage and gripped the seat with both hands as though steeling herself for the task at hand, before launching the gathered company into the first strings of “Fernand.” That initial moment when Galas’ voice washes over you is completely unique. This music is not easy but unlike most difficult music its meaning is not obscured in its construction. The emotional weight of Galas’ work trips right across the surface of her remarkable sound. One of the great things about Galas is that despite the intense nature of her performance style, she does not shy away from the audience. The respectfully silent crowd would break the tension between numbers with brief declarations of love or support and generally receive a sly nod or muttered rejoinder from Galas. There is a shared love of the difficulty of this style of performance that marks the space. Galas has spoken elsewhere about learning to play the piano from her father in the New Orleans style, and she mentioned that again during an early break in the performance. It was nice to see that she clearly felt a connection with the sounds of New Orleans and their relation to the overall arc of her musical journey. This show was a spiritual homecoming for Galas and a magnificent journey abroad for the rest of us in attendance.
Sinkane coming to Gasa Gasa
On April 27, Ahmed Gallab is bringing his Sinkane project to Gasa Gasa for the perfect kickoff show for the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Gallab just completed a stint as the music director for the Atomic Bomb! Band, which is a supergroup of musicians dedicated to interpreting the music of William Onyeabor, and has recently released Sinkane’s excellent new record Life & Livin’ It. I spoke with Gallab about his various projects in anticipation of his upcoming show. We started by talking about his sparsely attended 2014 appearance at One Eyed Jacks and the path the he has been on since then.
“I had never played in New Orleans with Sinkane, so I didn't expect to play in a place like that. I kinda thought we were gonna ... I didn't know what Jacks was and I thought we were gonna just play in a small room…I love New Orleans. It's one of my favorite cities in the world and it was really great to be there but I was like, Wow, I can't believe this is were we're playing. I thought we could of played some dive bar in the Bywater, or something like that. We ended up playing right in the middle of the French Quarter.”
If New Orleans wasn’t quite ready for Gallab, at that moment he was being recruited to direct the Atomic Bomb! Band alongside the likes of David Byrne and Damon Albarn.
“I took that responsibility very seriously. I felt like I came out a lot more confident. I bonded with my band in a way that I couldn't have bonded ever. It's really hard to be a musician in New York and a lot of that comes down to finances. If you can't afford to get a band to practice as much as you want then it's not gonna happen. You've just gotta figure out some creative ways and luckily I got the opportunity to do this. It gave us the drive and the inspiration to want to rehearse a lot. So we spent 200 hours learning this music and playing together. While I was recording the Sinkane record…And so when we came out of that year of Sinkane and Atomic Bomb! touring it was a force. We could read each other upside down.”
Sinkane leading the Atomic Bomb! Band at Bonnaroo 2015
This combination of intense practice and his love of Onyeabor’s music opened up Gallab’s sense identity in ways he didn’t expect.
“And that was really inspirational to me because I needed to know when I started Sincane, and I first heard Willy Onyeabor, I was and still am kinda dealing with this identity issue of 'am I an African person or am I an American or where does my identity lie?' And I thought a person who came from Africa that I related to emote about himself in this very honest way. And it sounded like everything, like he was influenced by the world. And I feel like, that's how I felt like I was as well.
"And so, I stopped being scared of wanting to put every piece of me in the music. Because I didn't know if I needed ... As an artist sometime you get caught up in the idea of like, 'what is my challenge and who am I and how am I going to relate this to the world? And I'm African so maybe I should be an African musician?' I just let that all go. I just shed that insecurity…I was inspired by the fact that he was from Nigeria but you probably couldn't tell if you listened to him randomly. You might think he's American. You might think he's from the Caribbean. You might think he's Brazilian. You might think he's some expat that lives in Europe or something. So that really resonated with me and that really gave me the confidence to do what I wanted with my music. And stop caring about all of the fluff. All the weird stuff that kinda goes with that.
Gallab has effortlessly applied this confidence of sound to our contemporary political landscape without losing the optimistic nature of his music.
“The reason why it's cool is because it's always been bad. There's always been shit going on in the world. There's always been a struggle. But we are still alive and there are people who have dealt with those struggles from generations past that have lived through that, who then have come and tell us all that the reason why we live through that is because we had hope. Because we were positive. Because we felt like we could get ourselves out of this situation…So that's the message I'm trying to portray.
"I don't want any one to escape from anything. I want people to acknowledge that shit sucks. But, you know what, we can get through everything this way….I wanted to put that into the music and draw people in with a very optimistic and bright and funny sounding music. But also if you listen to the lyrics you understand that I'm being very honest about what's going on.” For Gallab everything is read through the lens of music. It is fundamental not just his political leanings but his very being. “For me, my entire identity has been wrapped around music. Not only as a musician, but as a listener. When I grew up I found myself through my favorite bands. That's what opened me up, that's what made me realize what I like about things and what I didn't like about things.”
Sinkane’s shows are high energy affairs that bring local elements into the mix for a seamless blend of the local and national. At this show locals Scott Clemens and Abner Deitle will join on horns to bring in a bit of a New Orleans flair. Be sure to catch them on April 27 at Gasa Gasa.
To Do This Week
Tonight check out Pile at Gasa Gasa. Tomorrow Gravity A will be at the Maple Leaf and Umphrey’s McGee will be at the Orpheum. On Sunday Mandolin Orange will be at Gasa with The Dead Tongues. This week the Wednesdays at the Square concert will be Flow Tribe with Robin Barnes opening.
To Listen This Week
- Excellent new track from Bully via CoS
- New Sylvan Esso video via Youtube
- New Big Thief video via Youtube