Born in 1923 at Musawa village of Katsina State, Mamman Shata attended Islamiyya school as a child. Out of interest, he started singing even as a child and, gradually, he became one of the most prominent singers of his time and even beyond.
At a time during his lifetime, Mamman Shata was asked in a radio interview how and where he learned to sing. His reply was: “I started singing here at Musawa where I was born; and no one can claim that he taught me how to sing”.
Speaking about what inspired him to venture into music, Shata said: “I ventured into music out of childish exuberance; I didn’t inherit it from either of my parents. I sang for a long time without collecting a penny. Even when I was given money, other praise singers collected it; I only started collecting money when I made it (music) a career”.
Commenting on how he got the name, “Shata”, he said,“I was named Shata by one Magaji Salamu who was referring to me as husband to my paternal grandmother, Mai Daki”
On which of his songs he considered the best, the Hausa music legend said: “This is something really difficult for me to say and I think no one can tell since I, Shata can’t”.
Like most traditional Hausa musicians, the main themes of his songs were praises for people that were outstanding in various fields of human endeavour. But unlike most Hausa traditional praise singers, Shata sang not only for people and places but any other thing he fancied, even the unimaginable.
Another outstanding quality of Shata was the talent to compose his songs on the spot, mostly depending on the circumstance. Records of Shata’s musical records show that he never sat down to compose a song before he performed.
Shata’s songs were accompanied by drums known as kalangu in Hausa and a chorus who repeated the chorus after each verse as he sings. His mode of singing made the phrase dan (plural: ’yan) amshin Shata, used to describe anyone perceived to be a yes-man, popular among Hausa speakers.
He was indeed eloquent and fluent when singing but he never rehearsed before staging a public performance.
This was affirmed by Alhaji Hassan Hadi, one of his close associates, who said: “Shata never rehearsed before performing. In fact, most of the time, he never knew what or whom to sing for or about. But he was so perfectly eloquent he sang with no hesitation or deviation. His performance was indeed superb”.
Mamman Shata was one of the best selling artistes from the North during his time and his songs remain vibrant and very popular, particularly among the elderly. He was a highly respected Hausa traditional musician who, having spent most of his life singing, produced many songs, the number of which even he said he did not know. A lot of his songs were recorded while others a number of them were not.
The late musician had travelled widely and met a lot of prominent people around the world. He was into politics, agriculture, and philosophy, among many other fields of life. Even though he was known to be a very proud—some would say arrogant—and courageous fellow, his relationship with other musicians was cordial.
Shata won several awards among which was the famous honorary doctorate degree awarded him by Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in 1991.
Until his death at the age of 76 in June, 1999, Shata lived in his Funtua home for over 40 years. He was survived by three wives, 22 children and many grandchildren.
Perhaps because of the popularity of Shata’s songs, many have been analysed in different instances. One of the most influential works on Shata is the doctoral dissertation of Dr Abdulkadir Dandatti, “The Role of an Oral Singer in Hausa/Fulani Society: A Case Study of Mamman Shata”, in which the late musician’s Bakandamiya (a popular song in which he praised himself) was translated. Some verses are presented below:
(1) Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so [do] the chorus.
I started Bakandamiya and embraced the thing that interests me most.
Chorus: Alo, Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so [do] the chorus.
As for me nothing interests me except my singing,
Beat your drum carefully,
Play slowly and carefully,
For drumming is your inheritance but not mine.
(2) I started singing as a hobby,
Certainly I started it as a hobby and outshined the professionals;
Now it is my match that they search for and have woefully failed,
Alo,Alo, the singer expresses his gratitude and so [do] the chorus.
It is not parting with a hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created.
(3) The city of sheep and donkeys
The city of sheep and donkeys,
Kano, the city of Dabo, of beautiful women and cars,
The great ancient city of Bagauda has no equal.
Kano the huge city with Dala and Gwabron Dutse.
(5) I have made it clear to the city people,
I have made it clear to the village people,
I said to them: singing is not my father’s profession,
It is neither my mother’s nor that of Modibbo.
A profession that does not belong to your father,
Let alone your mother,
If you earn a penny and a half from it Alhamdullahi (Praise be to Allah)
I repeat, if you earn a penny and a half from it Alhamdullahi (Praise be to Allah)
The singer expresses his gratitude and so are the chorus.
(6) One day here in the city of Dabo,
I have ever lived in the city of Dabo,
During the reign of Sanusi Mamman,
Burhan father of Habu son of Abdu,
Then I packed my belongings and left,
And returned to the city of Dikko,
Our Katsina, the city of Shehu.
(7) My departure pleased the Kano singers;
They ganged up against me saying:
That bastard Shata has gone,
Good riddance Shata has left,
Ha! Since he left the city of Dabo,
No doubt has lost many good things.
Go your way; I am aware I missed Kano City,
And Kano too had missed a famous singer,
And you also had missed my singing.
(8) After six good months I staged a comeback,
I went away for six months,
And returned to the city of Dabo,
On Friday during the princess’s wedding,
I sneaked in with my mini car,
I took a corner and parked my mini car,
I put on a veil and joined the crowd,
(9) I saw the princes were seated,
And the servants of the princes were also seated,
Even their slaves were seated,
The youth of the city also took their seats,
And so were the young girls of the city of Dabo,
I found the princess subjected to Garaya music as if they were Yan Babule.
I found the princes subjected to Garaya music as if they were Yan Babule.
God forbid the palace become the arena of Yan Babule!
(10) I pondered and groaned,
There and then I uncovered myself,
And said, You have now felt the absence of Shata, the singer.
Even among kola nuts there are marsa,
Well much more so among the singers,
Princes, I hope and think that you will lend me your ears,
And listen to my song.
(11) It is not parting with the hero that is painful,
But filling the gap which he created….
(14) That day I rose and praised myself,
And praised God and his Messenger,
That day I outshined Hamisu, outwitted Caji and put Dabolo out of action,
They cast a spell on me but to no avail,
And had I prior knowledge,
I would have brought my billy-he goat, and my speckled fetish cock,
What! Would that I were able to know in advance,
I would have prepared for it.
I ignored banjo and guitar players,
Because they are insignificant musicians who,
Play for money clothes to wear and a few pounds to get married.