A trio, featuring brothers Antonio and Juan Miguel Carmona and their cousin, Juan Carmona, Ketama is one of the leading groups of the "new flamenco" movement. Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 1985, the trio has directed the evolution of flamenco as a world-savvy music. 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 -- with Malian multi-instrumentalist Toumani Diabate. Describing Ketama's sound, Folk Roots wrote, "harmonies masterful....melodies exquisite....pace and timing deeply satisfying....reaching points of the brain/body most music snoozes past."
The three members of Ketama represent the fourth generation of a musical family that traces back to guitarist Ico Habichuela. The trio's name recalls when they rehearsed in a chicken yard for 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 as opening act for Prince and the Rolling Stones. The Camona brothers also opened several shows for Frank Sinatra.
The Songhai project, which took its name from an African kingdom that had been invaded by Spanish troops in the 16th century, was formulated by Joe Boyd, producer of albums by Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, REM, and the Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. The 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. ~ Craig Harris