Madrid's award-winning Ketama trio, featuring brothers Antonio and Juan Miguel Carmona and cousin Juan Carmona, is one of the leading groups of the "new flamenco" movement. Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 1985, the trio have directed the evolution of flamenco as a world-savvy music. Their 2002 album Dame la Mano, went so far as to include hip-hop and house music. That hybrid approach has won detractors as well as fans, but Ketama helped introduce flamenco to an entirely new audience of young music listeners. Their longevity has silenced most of their naysayers. In addition to their own albums, which fuse flamenco with salsa, Brazilian, reggae, pop, funk, jazz, and hip-hop influences, Ketama has collaborated on two albums -- Songhai and Songhai 2 in 1988 and 1994 respectively -- with Malian multi-instrumentalist Toumani Diabate. Their 2000 album Toma Ketama! earned the band a Latin Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album. They split in 2004.
The three members of Ketama represent the fourth generation of a musical family that can be traced back to guitarist Ico Habichuela. The trio's name recalls the chicken yard they rehearsed in, while they gave nightly performances as house band of Canestra Tabiao. During their tenure at the club, they shared stages with Paco de Lucia, Enrique Morente, and Camarón De La Isla. After building their reputation with their virtuosic playing and vocal harmonies, they went on to play with Celia Cruz, Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, and Michel Camilo. Ketama secured their fame after opening for Prince and the Rolling Stones. The Carmona brothers also opened several shows for Frank Sinatra.
The Songhai project, which took its name from an African kingdom that was invaded by Spanish troops in the 16th century, was formulated by Joe Boyd, producer of albums by Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, R.E.M., and the Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. Their first album, released in 1988, united Ketama and Diabate, who played a 21-stringed kora, with British double bassist Danny Thompson and background vocalists Djanka Diabate and Diaw Kouyate. Six years later, Ketama and Diabate renewed their collaboration to record a follow-up album, Songhai 2, with a much larger band. In addition to flamenco singer Jose Soto, a founding member of Ketama who had left to pursue a solo career, the album featured Malian balafon player Kélétigui Diabaté, Malian ngoni player Basekou Kouyate, double bassist Javier Colina of La Barberia del Sur, violinist Bernardo Parrilla of Joaquin Cortes' group, and flamenco-rhumba vocalist Aurora.
Ketama was featured in Carlos Saura's film Flamencos. Their 2002 offering, Dame La Mano, showcased the group fusing bossa nova, soft fusion, and flamenco. ~ Craig Harris