Tama offer a new and intriguing take on predominantly Malian music. With their attractive blend of voices, acoustic instruments and gently rhythmic percussion, the collective suggest that fusion music can be unassuming and unforced. Taking their name from a Bambara word meaning ‘to walk’, Tama formed after playing with Bengali maestro Paban Das Baul. The project brings together a quartet of singer-songwriters, the original core trio of Tom Diakité (b. Mali; n’goni, percussion, kora, vocals), Sam Mills (b. England; guitar, vocals) and Djanuno Dabo (b. Guinea Bissau; vocals, guitar, percussion), plus Malian diva Mamani Keita. Diakité has played with Salif Keita, Mory Kanté and the Gypsy Kings, while Dabo has guested with Angélique Kidjo, Cesaria Evora and Toure Kunda. Mills, meanwhile, is a former member of 23 Skidoo, the post-punk pioneers of the use of ethnic rhythms and sounds, and notably produced (his partner) Susheela Raman’s debut album Salt Rain (on which Djanuno Dabo also plays). Keita has simultaneously developed a solo career, recording Electro Bamako with French electronic jazz pioneer Marc Minelli. She regularly appeared live with Tama and made her first appearance on ‘Sima’, recorded for the AIDS awareness album Spirit Of Africa. By the time of 2002’s Espace Keita was a full-time member of Tama.
The band ‘is a kind of space where the four of us can come together from different cultures and traditions and express ourselves... It’s a band of distinctive individual personalities but everybody contributes to the realisation of each other’s songs.’ Mills has explained of Tama’s existence, alongside its members’ multitude of other projects. Whether singing of a ‘Yalala’ (‘an unsteady character who is always out and about, is known everywhere and gets to see a bit of everybody else’s business’) or of a woman in a war-zone who has lost her child, Tama do so with grace and style. Making explicit the band’s original intention to operate as a collective, Tama’s follow-up, Espace, included guest performances from Madagascan Regisse Gizao (accordion), Susheela Raman (vocals), ‘Magic’ Malik Mezzadri (flute), Vincent Segal (cello), Herve Bongo (saxophone), Djelimoussa Kouyate (guitar), and Manecas Costa (guitar). Says Mills: ‘There’s a magic that is more effective as a collective. We’ve come to realise that the more open it is, then the better it works. If one person dominates, it throws everything out of balance.’