“I only use Da Mama Tokus because Facebook wouldn’t let me have Mama. I’m Mama Tokus.” She corrects a visitor while seated across the way from the convention center. Tokus has just finished a show with the Bayou Brothers, a local zydeco outfit. “A half-hour gig. I only did one song. Today, I worked for lawyer’s rates.” She grins. “I played the rub board. It was my job to bring the rub board today on public transportation. That was truly sort of horrifying for everyone here.”
Tokus comes from a small town in the U.K. called Totness, where riding public transportation is the norm, she says. “Totness is a progressive little town, but that’s what it is — a little town. After a while, everyone’s played with everyone else’s band. We take our friends’ gigs for granted.” The difference between here and there? “I’ve been surprised at the support musicians give each other here. I feel like I’ve been welcomed into a musicians’ community.” That, and Tokus says no one’s getting rich on music back home. “In England, the average local payment for a band member is 50 quid,” or about $80 at the current rate of exchange.
Mama Tokus is something of an alter ego for the 44-year-old British musician and spoken-word artist. Her real name is Katie; she says she was born in Washington DC. “My white mother hooked up with an African-American man, but not for too long.” She’s lived in the U.K. ever since early childhood and has the accent to prove it.
Before heading back to the U.K. on October 10, Tokus will have gigged at Java Joe’s in Kensington and Lestat’s in Normal Heights, Wynola Pizza near Julian, Tio Leo’s, and the Adams Avenue Street Fair, to name a few. Many of the performances have been in conjunction with Robin Henkel (who, along with drummer Ric Lee, toured London with Tokus last spring) or with the Bayou Brothers, who were responsible for bringing Tokus to San Diego’s Gator by the Bay in 2013.
“I’m here to consolidate my first visit to San Diego last year,” she says. “Ric Lee from the Bayou Brothers saw me performing in the U.K. He suggested that I come over here, with his band as backup. And I was able to slot into their scene just like that.” She snaps her fingers. “I’ve got transatlantic ambitions. I want to have a healthy performance base in America.”