Sinkane28-year-old Ahmed Gallab, aka Sinkane, is known by many as a musical prodigy – the multi-instrumentalist has played alongside and toured extensively with veteran rockers Yesayer, Of Montreal, and Caribou. Sinkane’s debut solo album Mars has him stepping out from behind the scenes, putting his skills as a frontman to the test – particularly his talents as a singer-songwriter.

Instead of resorting back to his old ways – meandering sound portraits full of open space and sparse instrumentation – Sinkane tightens things up significantly, allowing his songwriting abilities to shine through. Mars opens with “Runnin‘,” a polyrhythmic dance-floor igniter steeped heavily in leaky organs and wah-wah guitar riffs. The hook is simple, but establishes a vibrancy that underlines the whole album:

I don’t need to let you down
Gotta keep on runnin’
Till my body’s all but broken down

Jeeper Creeper” operates in much the same manner – from underneath a blistering backbeat a simple but urgent message emerges, which floats in and out of the melodies with smooth, serpentine-like grace. But what makes Mars so successful is the balance Sinkane strikes between the rhythms, which are sometimes influenced by some of the more violent parts of his Sudanese heritage, and the lyrics. LIke a non-violent protest, he doesn’t press. Instead Sinkane scales back a bit on the instrumentation, allowing his warm falsetto voice to expand in a subtle, nonintrusive way. He keeps it simple and organic, i.e. “Warm Spell,” thooming with basslines and ubiquitous guitar riffs; rich with elements of African Highlife – comparable to that of Sir Victor Uwaifo. Still, the lyrics glide across with ease:

We all lighten up
We all light up in the faze
Feel your blood warm up
Fall in drunken love and stay


The important thing is that Sinkane isn’t taking himself too seriously here. Not at this point. There’s too much room for growth to box himself in now, and with seemingly endless potential it would only make sense for him to keep things light. Mars is a small, yet significant baby-step forward, an enterprise that’ll likely test his songwriting abilities even further. In a lot of ways Sinkane is still a rookie in the game, and the exciting thing about it is that this album is just one well calculated step in a series of many: