Interview: Mama Tokus, “My shows at Glastonbury 2023 are all about the soulful swing, baby’

Mama Tokus brings variety; she’s a writer, singer, performance poet, MC and jazz, blues’n’soul lovin’ lady. She performs at this year’s Glastonbury Festival at Crooner’s Corner – one of the hidden gems of the festival, away from the jams in front of the Pyramid stage you can expect fun, joy and regular sing-a-longs.

We caught up with Mama to find out what it’s like to be performing at the festival and her plans for her shows.

Q&A with Mama Tokus

How does it feel to be heading to the famous Worthy Farm to perform at Glastonbury Festival?

I’M EXCITED. I’M USING CAPITAL LETTERS. I’M EXCITED. I’m off my food, that’s how excited I am. I’ve been to Glasto once as a paying punter (1990) and once working there on a video-shoot (2000). This will be my Glasto-debut. DID I SAY I’M EXCITED? I’M EXCITED.

You’re a writer, singer, and performance poet among many other talents – what can festival-goers expect from your shows?

Well, I’m performing at Crooners’ Corner (part of the Theatre & Circus field) and I’ve been given a brief: to sing and get people involved. Yes, I usually do a lot of different things, but my 6 shows at Glastonbury 2023 are all about the soulful swing, baby. I’ve got plenty of familiar tunes that, I hope, will get people twitching their hips and wiggling their butts (I’ve even got a song about that! No, really!). I’ve also got a few Mama Tokus originals: funny swing and blues tunes that I wrote as part of my album On The Ragtime (available here on Bandcamp, Apple and Spotify folks!)

How important is that variety to your work?

Well, it’s important to ensure that I don’t get bored. Did I tell you I’ve got a recent diagnosis of ADHD? Must have slipped my mind!

I’ve been told many times in my life to ‘focus, Tokus’, but try as I might, I want to do everything! 

Actually, my various aspects DO link together, and there is a common thread: musical wordplay. If you come to a Mama Tokus spoken-word gig, I’ll might mention jazz. If you’re at a jazz gig, I’m singing smart, wordy songs. When I’m writing my own stuff, I’m influenced by smart, wordy singer-writers like Bob Dorough, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Mose Allison.

In fact, I’m here to argue that variety is at the basis of improvisation. Variety = #jazzlife, yeah?

Will playing to a festival audience change how you approach your performances?

Absolutely. I’m already big on entertaining and involving people (I created a show to do just that, called The Get-Together) but I’m going all out at Glastonbury to hook people in, to dance with them, to lark about and grab their attention. I’m stepping up the showbiz, for sure!

I like to dress up for shows normally, but I’ve invested in some extra headgear for my Glasto gigs too. And I’ve learnt some new songs to add to my repertoire of uplifting numbers.  

What other acts will you be checking out across the weekend?

Jacob Collier, Lizzo and Rickie Lee Jones. I’d also like to catch events-artist Jeremy Deller talking about his new book Art is Magic. Because it is. 

Full details of Mama Tokus’s performances on Crooners Corner at Glastonbury Festival are available here.