Real Sugar

Paban Das Baul and Sam Mills, 1997

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 the inspired lyrical beauty of his songs and his genius in improvisation on the dubki (a small tambourine), which gives him the power to create trance-like states in his listeners.

Paban 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 learnt 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 14, I was initiated by Subal Das Baul."

Sam Mills was born in London in 1963. He started playing guitar with 23 Skidoo in 1979 and continued until 1982. At that time 23 Skidoo were top of the independent charts and were renowned 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
The 'Real Sugar' album involved ex-23 Skidoo-ers Fritz Catlin, who helped to programme and produce the record, and bassist Sketch (also formerly of Lynx).

The musical collaboration started casually at first in 1988. Sam says: "I would sit on the veranda of the house in Calcutta where Paban and Mimlu Sen stayed and play 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."

Reviews

  • Their occasional invocation of London drum & bass on top of Paban’s reverent voice and traditional percussion creates a sophisticated amalgamation of style and content. October 1997 Alternative Press (USA)
  • .. a swooning summery album ... The Independent (1997) (UK)
  • Bengali mysticism and British dancefloor eclecticism meet on ‘Real Sugar’ - and it’s love at first hearing. Boston Sunday Herald (1997) (USA)
  • ... his (Paban’s) expressive voice is a pleasure to discover Rhythm Music (1997) (USA)
  • Sam Mills ... propels the traditional sound to the vanguard with arrangements that draw on contemporary beats and rhythms. These songs are rapturous, lushly recorded, and not to be missed. June 1997 Gogaga (USA)
  • Paban’s mesmerising vocals gyrate around the calmly... ...looping Mills guitar, expertly married to programmed beats, frilled by rickety dubki. Q Magazine (1997) (UK)
  • It’s both traditional and actual - or now. Beautiful. Time Out, New York (1997) (USA)
  • ...syncretic Bengali mysticism never sounded better... ...here augmented by Hammond organ fills, meandering Pharaoh Sanders sax breaks and drum ‘n’ bass backing tracks that appear, for once, to be an organic development ... illuminated by lightning. World Music Album Of The Month, Mojo (1997) (USA)
  • Real Sugar presents this music as it has never been heard before... ... with Sam Mills ... mixing the warm traditional vocals of the Bauls with ambient and even drum ‘n’ bass sounds. Billboard (USA)
  • Esoteric and seductive ... 4-18 April 1997 Venue (Bristol & Bath, UK)