Proof that the Asian Underground can be both fun and thoughtful.
Louis Patterson 2007
Marking an impressive two decades of existence this year, State Of Bengal is the sole creation of Saifullah 'Sam' Zaman, a London-based DJ of Bengali heritage. Sam first rose to prominence off the back of a couple of tracks, ''Flight IC408’' and '‘Chittagong Chill’' on Tavlin Singh’s seminal ‘90s Asian Underground compilation Anokha. The following years have seen him mature into one of the premier faces pushing the sound to a global mainstream audience via a tour with Bjork and remixes for high profile artists like Massive Attack and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
State Of Bengal’s third album, Skip-Ij, continues the spirit of fusion that’s guided the project from its beginning. Founded after Sam returned from a trip to the village of Noakhali in Bangladesh, this is an attempt to reconcile traditional Bangladeshi music with the UK’s vibrant sound system culture and club scene – particularly, more recently, the fast tempos and broken beats of drum ’n’ bass. Recorded in an East London studio with a revolving cast of vocalists including UK rapper Bola Adekemi, Rosina Kazi of Canadian outfit LAL, Renu Hossain, and Sam’s brother Deeder Zaman (former vocalist of Asian Dub Foundation) Skip-Ij is dense and tirelessly rhythmic. Sam isn’t afraid to drop in funky, organic bass next to synthetic acid basslines, or traditional Indian percussion in amongst sequenced breakbeats. Indeed, sometimes, as on the Deeder-fronted track ‘'London To Dhaka'’, a percussion-led piece built from udu drums, bells and tabla, it’s all but impossible to see the join.
While much of Skip-Ij is built with dancefloor intent, there is certainly a political undercurrent to many of these tracks. Vocalist Rosina Kazi’s bile-ridden '‘Mr President'’ could be aimed at Bush, or Blair, or any despot who deserves to be toppled from power, while ‘'Breathe In’' takes a stand against homophobia. The beautiful '‘Sukno Patar'’, meanwhile, pays tribute to the late Bengali poet/philosopher Kazi Nazrul Islam. Proof that the Asian Underground can be both fun and thoughtful.