Brother Mathis Richet informed me of the terrible news this morning that our older brother, comrade, musical-cultural-political pioneer Sam 'State of Bengal' / Saifullah Zaman, and the intense energy of light, creativity, laughs and love has passed on.
We became close friends in the last several years, and he often schooled me in the history of South Asian cultural experience and resistance on this island while I would be surrounded by the seemingly endless South Asian drums covering one side of his living room come studio, with his music production equipment crammed in the other half. We discussed plans to hold a celebratory event for Black and Asian musical resistance histories in this country - something I will still go ahead with in helping to make happen and turn into a celebratory event for Sam's life!. He always encouraged me in my political work and always would say it is better to never sell out to the enemy and keep true to your people, community and our liberation struggle.
Sam exposed in the late 1990s some organised sexual abuse going on in Tower Hamlets of young Bengali boys by members of the white political elite which has of course been covered up. For Sam's work on this issue they punished him somewhat but he seemed to be getting through that and other challenges in life. Sam did not care about the fall out onto him in exposing this abuse and defending our youth. Sam would never kowtow or be intimidated by the enemy, nor would he be bought off or bribed and sell out to the enemy. He had backbone and was fearless and courageous in this regard.
I expected to have Sam as one of my mentors for decades to come, just recently he contributed to the Malcolm X Movement's Malcolm X Film Festival by facilitating communication and building relations between myself and some individuals connected to a big venue and a well known South Asian radical music group. Sam is the real older brother of another South Asian pioneer, Deedar Saifullah Zaman, someone I consider one of the best Emcees these islands has ever produced, and former front man (albeit very young man) of Asian Dub Foundation (Official), with Sam having a leading part in the writing and composition of some of the well known old school tracks of ADF that Deedar was on.
Sam and I even discussed doing some music and he sent me over half a dozen tracks for me to step back on the Mic, to make some tracks for this Malcolm X's 50 martyrdom anniversary. Recently last year he had a successful trip to India to play music, and he was keen to get back into schools and colleges and work with young people like he always has, and touring in India etc.
We often went into Lahori Nihari restaurant, a working class simple Punjabi restaurant next to his house in Upton Park and he would school me intensely in the hidden histories of the South Asian political and musical scene that he was a leading part of. He used to tell me about growing up as a militant young Bengali youth in East London, literally playing gigs and having running street fights with racists and the far right. And of course he would always impart his knowledge of the healing qualities of bass frequencies and harmonies!!
God bless you, brother Saifullah, brother Sam! You were the kind of older struggler, revolutionary and brother and mentor that we need so much to value and share your creativity and experiences to our peoples, especially the younger ones who perhaps don't know the sacrifices and histories.
And anyone who spent anytime with Sam will know of his wicked wit and sense of humour, and the way his eyes would twinkle and shine with his typically cheeky infectious Bengali smiling face.
I Love you brother. Sorry I was not there more for you, I wish came over in recent months and we could have gorged on Nihari and lemon juice drenched onion salad and discussed and schemed together. Thank you for bringing me into your heart and life and giving me the privilege to sit at your feet. You were and will always remain of one of our greatest cultural revolutionaries and humans who sought to bring liberation and elated mediation and dance for our peoples, and your beautiful beautiful son who I know you adored so much is the most gorgeous being who carries you inside him for life.
- Sukant Chandan, Sons of Malcolm