It only takes one visit to a salsa club, and if you get it, you really get it, then in only one heartbeat, it’ll get you right down into the heart of you. And the mystery of it is, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are or what you do, this Latin sensibility is in you somewhere, some whisper of a memory, a dormant gene, a long forgotten shared past. And that’s it. You enter a great big melting pot – the kind of world you wish the real world was. If only.
And for Tamambo, Iraqi of origin, Liberian of birth, Dutch of nationality, and Spanish for part of his upbringing, it was partly this longing for something he took for granted in his childhood that drew him in to salsa.
“I grew up in the Canary Islands,” he explained, when I caught up with him at SOS in London recently, “and after fourteen years of living in Spain, when I left there was a great emptiness in me. Although, when I was there, I hated Latin music! I realsised I missed Latin culture, and when I first touched salsa, I realised I had found that missing connection, and dived into it.”
“I love salsa,” he continued,” because I not only understand what I’m dancing to, but I can also either feel or relate to the music.”
Tammam moved from salsa hobby to salsa job because, as he said, “I realised that dancing made me happy and I found it fulfilling as a hobby. I worked as a sales and marketing director for a graphic design business and I saw an opportunity to switch industry, but not career. So, I went into organising events in Holland”
The move to the UK came when he met Irene Miguel through Leon Rose, and they decided to compete in the Corona European Salsa Competition. They won. He then met Sarah, who became part of Tamambo and Salsara, they became a couple, and so in the UK he stayed.
He’s been teaching, performing, coaching and choreographing ever since. And he loves them all.
He said, “I love teaching because it was a hard road for me – I struggled to find people to explain things to me the way I needed them explaining. Not everyone learns in the same manner, so I ensure I explain it in different ways to enable everyone to understand.
“And my new-found passion,” he continued, “ is in coaching new talent. I do it at the moment in Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Germany and the UK. I find it very fulfilling – every time I see them on stage it gives me a sense of pride that I have contributed in some form to their success and made them better.”
But above all he “loves performing more than anything else in the world.” And in performing solo to Sofrito, by the Fania All Stars, he’ changed the emphasis of what he does, albeit temporarily.
“When dancing to Sofrito,” he explained, “I disappear and dance like there’s no-one watching. In every other performance, the purpose has been solely to entertain, but this is different. This was more meant to contain a message and in the process of appreciating it I hope people will be entertained as well.”
The dance is about many things, including Tammam’s experience of being an Arab in Europe. At the time he choreographed it, in 2005 his mother was still in Baghdad “The music,” he said made me think about my life and how it fitted in the current world we live in. My mother was living in Baghdad back then with multitude of attacks taking place in the area she lived in.”
The “Sofrito” experience, however, was a one-off, and he’s back to partner dancing, although, says Tammam, “never say never…”
But living as an Arab in Europe and having access to people of all cultures has given him, he believes, a unique opportunity to break down barriers..
“As an Arab in Europe things have become really hard nowadays, since any Arab is branded as a potential terrorist. However, I have always had the belief that if one person got to know me really well, I would have convinced five of their friends that we are not all the way we are portrayed in the world. I have managed to stand in front of audiences around the world as they watch me perform and teach and show them who I truly am, hoping that one day they will all become my friends.”
“If dancing brings people together, let us teach the whole world to dance.”