In celebration of BBC World Music Day, the public were invited to nominate musicians and music venues from around the UK and on 15th June 2017 these were unveiled. Recipients of the 47 plaques include David Bowie, John Peel, John Bonham (drummer of Led Zeppelin), Lemmy of Motorhead and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For the full list, take a look here
Of those 47, the one that means the most to me and the one I nominated for, is the blue plaque that has been awarded to my friend, the late Sam Zaman of State of Bengal for his contribution to music.
I first met Sam when I was working in entertainment television in the late 90’s. I was working on an item about the exciting, new and emerging Asian Underground scene. I was doing some research and one of the people I called was Sam. We instantly hit it off and became friends. It was hard not to like Sam. He was fun and had this infectious laugh that would make me smile. He was kind and generous with his time and friendship. Even when time lapsed, I knew I could just pick up the phone and vice versa, and it would be like no time had passed at all.
Sam’s home and studio was a social hub and mixing pot of creative talents, you never knew who you were going to meet or what was going to happen. But what you did know is that it was always going to be fun. I remember going to a house party, where he and his musically talented friends and peers decided to have a jam session. Being completely unmusical I tried to fade into the background, realising I didn’t have anything to offer and I didn’t want to embarrass myself due to the lack of my musical ability. Sam wasn’t having it and handed me a tambourine saying you can play this. I sat in the corner shaking my tambourine, hoping I was in time. Luckily a tambourine is quiet enough for anyone not to notice me playing it badly! Sam was encouraging and always included me, even when I was too shy or wanted to hide away.
I was lucky enough to go on a club tour with State of Bengal when they gigged across Italy. Sam very kindly invited me to come along. I met him, the band and other people involved in the tour at the airport in Italy. I didn’t know anyone else and decided to share a room with Sam. Little did I know that Sam snored, not just regular snoring but room shaking noise vibrating loud snoring. To be fair, he did warn me that he snored…badly and loudly but I figured how bad can it be? I grew up listening to my dad snore and he was loud. I used to be able to hear him downstairs through the closed doors and the television on, he was that loud. I thought surely Sam can’t be that loud. I was wrong and he was not joking. It was loud snoring and needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep during that trip. I would love to say it was because we were partying all night which we were but there was no sleep when there was a chance to sleep! Watching Sam perform live and watching the audience react was one of the best experiences, it was when his music really came alive. The clubs were packed and the energy was something else, you could feel it in the atmosphere which was electric and exciting. We spent every night in a club and we spent the days on the open road, travelling to the next place. It was an amazing experience and something at the time, I had never done before.
It was wonderful watching Sam talk music or play music, he was so passionate and enthusiastic about it and I loved listening. He would find musical inspiration in various styles of music and literally in everything, whether it was an obscure sound or wind whistling in the trees. Sam would hear music. He had the largest record collection I have ever seen, along with turntables and musical instruments. He lived and breathed music. He was a DJ, musician and a producer. State of Bengal had originally been the name of a rap outfit he started with his brother Deedar who was seven (who later went on to be the vocalist for Asian Dub Foundation) and MC Mushtaq who was 15 (who went on to become the lead rapper for Fun-Da-Mental). Sam went on to work with numerous musicians including Bjork, Massive Attack, Paban Das Baul, Ananda Shankar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan amongst many more….And when he wasn’t doing that he was teaching children in music workshops which he was equally passionate about.
To me, first and foremost Sam was my friend. What I remember the most about him was his friendship, his mischievous sense of humour and his laugh. I remember his words of wisdom, his advice and his constant instance that I needed to look after myself more. I remember our numerous chats and his hugs. He had this energy that would just illuminate out of him. He made me smile then and he makes me smile remembering him now.
To be awarded a blue plaque is amazing, a beautiful tribute not just for Sam professionally but also personally. It was a lovely day listening to his friends and family talk about Sam and to listen to musical tributes to him. The day was a celebration of him and I know he would be touched. He would have loved it.
Love you and miss you my laughing Buddha.