State of Bengal and the British Asian Underground Music Experience

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Today is the funeral of Sam Zaman, AKA State of Bengal, DJ, music producer and musician. I’m very sad we lost such a talented and generous soul at just 43 years old. Zaman was born in Pakistan, of Bangladeshi decent and arrived in London when he was 8 years old. He went on to become a key player in the British Asian Underground music movement, working with a range of artists and setting up music workshops with youth groups.

I remember getting a Facebook friend request from Sam when I was living in Melbourne sometime around 2010. We had so many mutual ‘friends’, had never met, but of course I knew who he was! We became friends and I often turned to Sam for advice, even on my recent trip to do some voluntary work in India. I did a crowd funding campaign and only one of my sponsors was anonymous; I managed to work out it was him. He shared so much great music with me, would randomly send me links to inspirational sounds from all over the world. We shared our experiences of love and loss, me my father, him his mother, whilst drinking tea with honey in his London home. He showed me photos of his family and we talked about politics, spirituality and healthy living. He was so enthusiastic, kind natured and energetic, telling me about his days working with the likes of Bjork and Ananda Shankar.

After a few months of not succeeding in landing a job in the international development sector last year, and realising it’s not actually what I want and sharing my frustration with him, he said: “You are a creative, create something that is needed and focus on that. Have a bit of faith in yourself, you are here because you are planning for much greater things, patience. Be just you, not the anger in the head”. I’ll never forget those words.

They were fantastic days, back in the 90s when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Leeds, and discovered the British Asian underground music scene. Me and my friends would go to special club nights. There was ‘Kohinoor’ in Leeds, ‘Shaanti’ in Birmingham, ‘Anokha’ in London, and we often went to Dogstar on Cold Harbour Lane in Brixton for ‘Stoned Asia’, seeing the same people clubbing up and down the country to this cool funky new music. One of my best friends started working for the Outcaste music label so our nights out in the big smoke got even better…eastern sounds blended with electro and drum’n’bass was my heaven. Those were the days when my music collection was getting filled with the likes of Sam, Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Badmaash and Shri, Fun-Da-Mental, Asian Dub Foundation and more, alongside trip hop and big beats, not forgetting Brit Pop! Man the music was good and we mixed it all up.

Those days are gone but music continues to excite and evolve, taking us on journeys we could never have imagined in our hearts, minds and lives. My recent trip to India exposed a new energy and much talent amongst the musical youth, taking pride in tradition and history as well as the modern and digital age. I listened to all sorts from Sufi Electronica and Baul singers in Mumbai, to folk music in the Khasi language in Shillong. Technology, travel, migration, history and heritage all lead to beautiful music, such as the creations of Mr Sam Zaman. State of Bengal you will be missed, but we thank you for the music you leave behind.

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