'Paban's extended technique allows his voice to soar majestically..'
Martin Longley 2004
These two WOMAD regulars are arriving from opposite camps, one being electronically geared for the UK dancefloor, the other steeped in ancient folk traditions.
Paban is a member of Bengal's Baul sect, itinerant minstrels whose religious ideas centre around the nameless, sexless nature of God, and the importance of the body as a conduit for spiritual matter. This seems vaguely akin to Sufi beliefs in its visceral nature. Paban was initiated at the age of 14, singing his songs across India's rail lines. He's accustomed to fusion work, having already collaborated with guitarist Sam Mills on the Real Sugar album, for Real World in 1997.
This time, Paban's meeting has taken his music in an even more extreme direction, with Sam Zaman (State Of Bengal) providing club beats, heady production and an uncompromising dialogue with the old ways. The two musicians were introduced at a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tribute, shortly after the Qawwali singer's passing. Zaman was already accustomed to spinning Paban's first Real World disc during his DJ sets. Sessions started at Sam's home studio in Upton Park, east London, then continued in what was then Paban's Paris residence.
Paban Das Baul's central contribution to each song is an emotive vocal line, with his specialised Baul instrumentation taking on a decorative role. It's Zaman's gigantic rhythm tracks that form much of the musical muscle, taking a drum 'n' bass format as their starting point, even though this is frequently settled down into a calmer manifestation.
Guest players include Marque Gilmore (specialising in real-drumkit breakbeats) and Asian Dub Foundation's bassist Dr. Das. Zaman encouraged Paban to write his own words, determined to stretch him into unfamiliar positions. Paban's extended technique allows his voice to soar majestically, his lines usually remaining tranquil, even if his musical backing is becoming agitated.
On certain tracks, the Baul element is intensified, with "Ram Rahim" featuring the wobbly khomuk drum, whilst "Padma Nodi" clatters with the banjoesque dotara. The most forceful confrontation happens during "Dohai Allah", which is heavy on the acoustic percussion, yet still pumped up by weighty breakbeats. The majority of the songs maintain their linear flow, underlining a developing musical theme rather than shunting into differing areas.