Tama was a Pan-African world fusion project made in the late 1990s. The Tama album Nostalgie came about when Tom Diakite (Mali), Sam Mills (UK) and Djanuno Dabo (Guinea Bissau) met while performing with Bengali master Paban Das Baul. According to Sam: “We had some spare time booked in a studio and played a few songs which were impromptu but sounded really good and were enough for us to convince Real World to record an album.”
Primarily based on singer and multi-instrumentalist Tom Diakite’s material, the album displays a combination of rhythms and influences from West Africa with European music elements. Tom said: “Originally I came from the same part of Mali as Oumou Sangare and Nahawa Doumbia, the Wasulu and the music I learned there was already a mix – something different from the mainstream Malian tradition. Now I use aspects of the tradition like the pentatonic scale adding some blues and non-Malian elements both in the vocals and in the guitar, piano, cello and ud instrumentation.”
Tama made a second and final album titled Espace (Real World, 2002).
“We have to maintain dignity with each other whoever we are – from city or country, young or old, wise, poor and no matter how rich … it can all be gone tomorrow,” says Ghanaian percussionist, vocalist and flutist Nii Okai Tagoe. In keeping with that statement, he gives equal, fair attention to every player and instrument on this record. This is not an attempt to return to any roots, but a utilization of old and new, traditional and innovative, Ghanaian and Western musical tools to build a coherent narrative.
The eleven songs each have their own power and message, and the album leaves the listener feeling that his or her perspective is enhanced. Liner notes include statement summaries to accompany each song. The first cut, “Nyungmbo,” has the message, “Leave me, watch me and let me show you what I can do. A mother always feels pain when a child is crying.” The third, “Moni Sane Yemi,” is, “When you know you are in the right, don’t rush. Rushing could cost you your rights. Don’t worry, justice will come.” “Mile Mi Ley,” the seventh tune, is accompanied by the observation, “If we knew tomorrow, the way we’d approach today would be different.”
Expressing these thoughts with a number of African percussion instruments and a full, modern Western jazz band, Mr. Tagoe gives us a CD full of drive, tangents, rhythm and drive. It will draw listeners toward genres and thoughts, but not lock them into any one standard record store bin. This release could be filed under jazz, rock, world or modern folk.
Thank you, Nii Okai Tagoe, for having so much to say.
The lineup on West to West includes Nii Okai Tagoe on balafon, jembe, gome drum, kpalongo drums, chene (calabash), axatse (shaker), gankogui (bell), djun djun, brekete drum, tama (talking drum), and lead and backing vocals; Jose Joyette (Michael Jackson/George Harrison/Amy Winehouse)on drum kit; Alexander K. Boateng on drum kit; Tim Robinson on drum kit; Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman (Osibisa) on guitar; Wendell Richardson on guitar; Jez King on guitar; Martin Craddick (Baka Beyond) on guitar; Davide Cammelli on guitar; Derrick McIntyre (Jamiroquai & Beverley Knight) on bass; Emmanuel Rentzos (Johnny Nash/Roy Ayers) on keyboards; Paddy le Mercier (Baka Beyond) on violin; Ellen Mason on harp; Colin Graham (Wham/UB40) on trumpet; Jon Petter on saxophone; and Molara on backing vocals.