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Real Sugar
Paban Das Baul & Sam Mills

62367 Real World

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pabanPaban Das Baul
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Paban Das Baul was born in 1961 in the village of Mohammedpur, in the district of Murshidabad in West Bengal, India - land of a population incarnating the spirit of syncretism between Tantric, Vaishnava, Muslim and Buddhist traditions through music, dance and song. He is well known for his genius of improvisation on the dubki (a small tambourine) and the inspired lyrical beauty of his songs, which give him the power to create trance-like states in his listeners.

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spacePaban started to play and sing from the age of five: "When my father, a champion of martial arts, lost his lands, he wandered around the villages of Murshidabad singing and wrestling for money. I would accompany him and learn how to sing and play the dubki from the Sufi fakirs. Later, I met the Bauls and played in their festivals. At the age of fourteen I was initiated by Subal Das Baul."

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The word "Baul" means divinely possessed, without limits, simply mad; the Bauls address each other as khepa meaning furious. They have a mode of life entirely determined by a fundamental choice and bring chaos and disorder wherever they go - attracting people towards them, inviting intimacy, breaking the rhythm of daily life.
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Their wild behavior and repetitive rhythms make them seem strange and manic; so it's not surprising that in traditional Bengali society, where strict caste and class distinctions are rigidly maintained, they are chastised and despised. Through their songs, dances, gestures, through silences, through postures and looks, the Bauls tell stories of the earth, of the body, of lovers uniting - subtly revealing the mystery of life and the laws of nature. Submission to the divine is the tightrope to wisdom; Baul knowledge is transmitted through songs. This early apprenticeship gives Paban's music a unique quality. His unconventional nature and versatile talents, drawing and inspiring him from old and new sources, make him a controversial figure in Bengal.


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paban and sam

Sam Mills 


Sam Mills was born in London in    1963. In 1979, he started playing guitar with the innovative ethno-funk band 23 Skidoo and continued until 1982. At that time 23 Skidoo were top of the British independent charts and were reputed for the intensity of their live performances. They fused avant garde experimentation and stylistic eclecticism with dance rhythms, and (borrowing from bands like Can, This Heat, Fela Kuti and whatever ethnic music they could lay their hands on) anticipated many musical trends in recent years. The Real Sugar album also features ex-23 Skidoo member Fritz Catlin, who helped to program and produce the record, and bassist Sketch (formerly of Lynx).


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Sam recalls: "I remember hearing Baul music for the first time in Honky Tonk Records in Kentish Town, where we used to rehearse. There was this extraordinary sound, which I later learned was a komok, like a talking drum but far more extreme. It left an indelible impression on me."
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The Bauls themselves seemed to have an inspired syncretism, taking on board all the religious traditions of South Asia and focusing them on the divinity of the person and the body. Perhaps because Bauls rejected orthodoxy, high classicism and caste, their sound resonated with the post-punk experimentalism that 23 Skidoo and a lot of other musicians were trying to explore.
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After 23 Skidoo, inspired by the startling music from all over the world that was finding its way into North London record shops, Sam Mills went to study Anthropology at the London School of Economics, emerging with a PhD in 1992. During this time he also lived in Japan and Bangladesh and traveled around Asia.
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The Collaboration: REAL SUGAR
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In 1986 Sam visited Calcutta for the first time and, remembering that the Bauls were local cultural icons, went to find them in the Bengali countryside. This led to many encounters with wonderful musicians and evenings spent under the sky listening to the song battles of the Bauls. But meeting Paban in 1988 was different. Paban was obviously a world class performer and had been traveling around Europe for many years. The musical collaboration started casually at first.

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"I would sit in the veranda of the house in Calcutta where Paban and Mimlu Sen stayed and played their piano. Paban would always be singing and playing so we started to jam together. He gave me a komok and a dotara which I also learned to play, although never as well as the Bauls do. All the time I was hearing a lot of the music, learning the language and getting a whole background to the kind of work Paban was doing, which made him seem more rather than less remarkable to me. I used to listen to a lot of Bengali songs, which are very rich and melodic, and think about how they could fit in with the kinds of chords we use in pop music here, as well as with the kind of beats and grooves that run through African music, or funk, or whatever."
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"We both returned to Europe in 1990 and I would visit Paban and Mimlu in Paris, with my guitar. In 1992, Paban came to London for a couple of days and we started fooling around with a Portastudio. In one evening we recorded three songs which seemed to have a promise about them. Later that year, I organized a couple of concerts in London and a great group of Bauls featuring Paban came and played. We were even invited to Mick Jagger's house to give a private performance, although none of them had ever heard of him before and the Bauls were adopting their usual superstar attitudes. It was a bizarre evening. We then took a holiday in the south of France and made some beautiful a cappela recordings of Paban singing. Microsoft used some of this to represent the music of Bengal in their World CD-Rom Atlas."

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Over the next year, Paban was in India a lot and Sam was researching in Bangladesh. They snatched two days in Paris to record some songs in an eight track studio. Sam had some rough ideas and had recorded a simple backing hoping to elicit performances. Out of this came Dil Ki Doya and Mon Moti, two of the best songs on the album. It was these tracks that made Real World take notice of what they were doing and gave them the chance to make the album which became REAL SUGAR.
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As Sam explains, "REAL SUGAR was a collaboration which involved Paban leaving a rhythmic snippet of a song and we would build the music up around it. He would then record the vocal and we would re-work the music around what he had sung. Some of the music was done to tracks which were already made, but by singing on it Paban would impose his character very strongly. The intention in the record is to produce something which is musically interesting for a global audience, which does not compromise the integrity of the songs and uses whatever musical skills we have to offer. Perhaps because Paban and I have known each other for quite a few years, and got to know each other first rather than just meeting in the studio, there is something in the musical interaction which makes the record special."


 

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