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State of Bengal and his views

After doing two albums with very different flavors - State of Bengal surprises us with a third one that has nothing in common with them. I chatted it up with the man to hear his views on why he does what he does - and what he thinks of this god forsaken record industry.

AV: You have done a bunch of different albums and this your third one - compared to the previous two - what is so different with this one?
SOB: This one pretty much started out because I wanted to work with Paban Das Baul. Initially the idea was to have him work on a track for my next album but, I didn't get to finish that album because I was working on so many different projects. So that one track just kind of turned into this Bengali Baul Folk Funk album. This is something I have always wanted to do since I was a young kid and that I have always wanted to do an entire album totally recorded in my living room - kind of regressing back to my roots - where it all started and yet taking it to the future.

AV: So the main difference is that you are trying to reach back to your own roots with this album?
SOB: That and this time I had to work with a singer/song writer while the previous two weren't about that at all. They were far more experimental and musical.

AV: So were there difficulties working with a vocal artist?
SOB: Well, vocalists honestly tend to think that they are God or as close to God as anyone can get [laughs] - and when you have that kind of psychology and ideology running through something as simple as making music and writing music then somewhere along the line the whole process gets affected. But, by the point the producer realizes that it's too late. So one just patches up the wounds and makes the thing whole. Sadly, sometimes my job at the end of the day wasn't that of the artist or the producer but one of a man trying to finish an album.

AV: Did that force you to re-evaluate your capabilities and what you could do with the album?
SOB: Yes. The thing is that I am given a lot of help from the labels and the artists, and unfortunately with those things no one can dictate what is going to happen. I had a different vision for the whole thing and they sometimes have a different one. Even though I did produce this album in my own style - there were moments where my hands were tied as an experimental artist. So, where I wanted to take the album and where it was taken ended up being two different things.

AV: Are you saying the record label caused to take it to a different place?
SOB: Yes partly the label, partly the artist - I mean if everyone was on board to give me the time to do it properly and understand where I was trying to take the album then it would have happened that way. Unfortunately time restrains, budget restraints and the artist's own philosophy on himself limited the whole thing.

AV: Any plans to maybe remix this album - so maybe you can bring back more of what you were initially planning with this album?
SOB: Honestly, you aren't the first person to mention that. Different Djs and artists have wanted to do remixes of this album for quite a bit and I have said to them all 'go ahead.' Personally though, I have had this album in my living room recording for the last year and a half and for me it's something that I have lived with for a long time. So, if I don't really want to carry on with it then I am sure people will understand. I have done it for myself and that's good enough. I am one of those people who likes to shape ideas pretty quickly and I don't like them hanging around my neck for a long time. If there were a lot of support from the artist and the label then maybe but otherwise - time to move on to the other projects on my plate.

AV: So tell me about that - what other projects are you working on right now?
SOB: First, there is my new album, which is still not finished, that I am working on. I think it will be called "Truth Time" but I am not sure yet. Then there is another project with a young singer from North London called Lopa - who sings in English - kind of sounds like Ella Fitzgerald. As much as I I don't want to stigmatize her into that, she does sound like one of those great classical singers - the old diva's from the sixties. Right now I am just doing four tracks with her to see where we can take it and so far it is sounding quiet good. I am going to go see One Little Indian records to see what they think of it and if they like it then I'll turn it into a full project if not then the tracks will be released as white label and I'll move on to the next project. Then I am working with a girl called Hussein who is a percussionist and hopefully writing some really good dance tunes which are different in taste - not just drum n bass or hip hop - just different. Then I am also working with my brother Deedar who is about to release his new album.

AV: Are you talking about Rebel Uprising?
SOB: Yea, it is coming along pretty nicely. It's quite good actually but he needs to grow into it, it isn't something that people will get straight away but I think with time as he develops it, it will shape up to something very interesting. So there are a couple of things going on.

AV: Going back to Pabal Das Baul - he is kind of the pioneer who has taken this music out of Bengal and brought it over to the west...
SOB: He is actually not the pioneer...

AV: What do you mean?
SOB: That was a guy called Purna Das Baul. He brought it out back in the 60's with Mick Jagger and his band. Originally I wanted to do something with Purna because he was someone I had listened to from a young age. But, when I heard Paban - it clicked. He has a great/warm voice and he is quiet clear in the way he sings.

AV: Actually, the reason I asked was to know what was the reaction you got from the listeners about Purna or Paban, who took something that wasn't known well around the world and brought it out?
SOB: The thing is - when I heard Paban Das's stuff back in mid '95 - most people weren't really into it. Then while I was touring in Europe and I realized that I could play a Bengali Song to French people and get 10,000 of them moving. So I decided to try it back in London. I went back and after playing it for a bit - it became a real classic where people started to recognize it and enjoy it on a constant basis. The interest was generated because there were also some other Djs who started to play the tracks. It's a similar to the phenomenon that occurred with Ananda Shankar - he's got a massive following amongst the jazz/dance/world scene and that is in part because there have been key Djs who have always liked his stuff and have always played his stuff out. The evolution of how something becomes viable is because there are people supporting it.

AV: Talking about Ananda Shankar - how was it for you, after working with him, when he died?
SOB: I think Ananda is one of the most highly spirited persons that I have met. Musically, he put me somewhere where I would have never gone myself. Most of all, it was done through absolutely no discussion - just pure action. I learned a lot from being around him, his musician friends and his family. Ananda's approach was that art is holistic and if you don't see it at that level you really aren't going to get it. I believe I do understand that - he always said you don't always need vocals in music - songs can be good without vocals - he was a very firm believer in instrumentalism. He said you can always create passion, mystery and drama all with musical instruments.

AV: So taking that philosophy - do you think you will be going back to that with your upcoming projects - i.e. using vocals minimally?
SOB: Metaphorically speaking, I treat it as opening a box and not knowing what is in it. Do you allow your knowledge of fear to stop you from opening that box or do you open that box and face the consequences later?. For me I'd rather open the box unless I know that there is something in there that shouldn't be there for me. So over all - my approach hasn't changed. I'll try things and see if they work - be it with vocals or without.

AV: Alright, that is all I had planned to ask you, is there anything else you want to share?
SOB: I have something forthcoming called Betel Nut Records - it isn't fully ready yet but it will be used for a lot of our future releases. All the future work that I am working on with different people. Hopefully in the next six months. The plan is to release some tracks off of there so people get an idea of what's coming.

AV: Are you planning on turning this into a full fledged label?
SOB: No, not a real label - I think it will just be more about in-house productions and projects.

AV: Is this an effort to pull away from the influence that records labels have had on your past releases?
SOB: No, not so much because - sure they have their own way of thinking what works and what doesn't - but I have been quiet lucky with labels who have said e"well you know what you are doing - why don't you go ahead and do it then." So most of my previous works have been stuff that I have done off my back - which has actually saved the labels asses on many occasions, being that they tend to only think about the money and I have got to think about the whole project.

AV: The reason I asked is because the release of Visual Audio that happened in the US was much different than the original release in the UK. And I have heard rumors that, that was a result of a push from Six Degree Records.
SOB: Well yes and no. You have look at that record from my eyes. I did the original tracks in 1997, then Visual Audio in the UK came out in 1999, two years later. One Little Indian had the album for more than a year and half in their hands. Then in 2000 Six Degree Records picks it up and they re-release it. So you talk about an album which conceptually had been running around in my head for 3 whole years - Do you honestly believe I would want the same tracks released after so much time? Of course I wouldn't. I'd get bored after a week. So a few things got remixed and got changed and yea, maybe in hindsight I shouldn't have allowed for that to happen - but the thing is, as a DJ you don't want to keep playing the same thing for 3 years.

AV: So it was your desire to change things around on the re-release?
SOB: On top of my desire, it was Six Degrees that felt that the original record was far too hard for the US market. They requested some new stuff and I gave them a selection and to be honest I wasn't really bothered with what they put out. I know it might sound a bit uncaring but I was ready to move on from that album to work on and DJ new things.

AV: Awesome man and good luck with all your future endevors. Thank you for your time.
SOB: Great - Thank you for having me on AsianVibrations.com

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