Inside the ‘outsider:’ A look at Philadelphia through the eyes of her native son, Jamaaladeen Tacuma

Jamaaladeen Tacuma prides himself on being one of the most consistently visible members of Philadelphia’s avant-garde.

The jazz-funk bassist has also excelled as a composer, entrepreneur and is a mainstay in the designer and fashion scene. Last year, his excellence in music gifted him City of Philadelphia’s Benny Golson Award from the Mayor and despite being known as one of the preeminent musicians to rock an electric bass, the four-stringed king showed he’s got chops on the upright, despite renouncing the instrument as part of his repertoire years ago.

Arriving by way of North Philadelphia, Tacuma has made a home for himself in Southwest, his studio workspace in the Redd Carpet Room resides where few dare tread. His next act is the fifth iteration of his multi-week Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival beginning April 14. Before the event, Tacuma checked in with PW to chat music and his role in it, living in an ever-changing Philadelphia.

You live and work in Southwest Philly, but, you’re from North Philly. What do you find appealing about life on the other side of the city from where you grew up?

I got married early on, and was living in the Cheltenham area, and wanted to buy a house rather than rent. Southwest Philadelphia prices were right. Having learned from the mistakes that black and white artists had made in the past – not taking their money and investing in something with longevity – I bought this house, cash, right after I got off tour.

What’s cool about the Southwest’s vibe and your place in it?

This house, the area, has been inspirational – as my children have become artists and entrepreneurs themselves. When I got here, there were the remnants of [when this area was a predominantly] white neighborhood, without many black folks. The black friends I have who attended Bartram High said that long ago, it was difficult for them to navigate their way through the neighborhood as there were race problems. I’ve witnessed though, from the time I got here, [almost] 15+ years ago to now, a change: people getting along, people coming from Africa.

Would you say it’s become even more of an international area, despite the development and subsequent gentrification arriving from universities like Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania drifting more into the neighborhood?

Yes. If I needed African material, artifacts and accessories in the past, I had to go to New York. Now, all I have to do is go to Woodland Avenue. Everything is there – restaurants, material stores. I ran into an African band rehearsing and invited myself into the room. That’s making me want to do a record with African influence, especially since I was in Senegal, and recorded with drummers from Gorai Island. I’ll fuse all those tracks.

You were immersed in the punk-New Wave scene before your time in Ornette Coleman’s band. You were also part of Center City’s music and fashion scene even before that. But even still, did you ever feel like an outsider?

Somewhat, in that, when everything before punk was focused around 20th and Sansom and Sansom Village. What is now a Shake Shack used to be Ward’s Folly where I bought my first bellbottom jeans and my first skinny-ribbed Henley shirt. You walked down the street to Ronald Philips Ltd. to buy shoes. Being African-American and from North Philly, my band wanted to wear different things – suede, fringe, hippie things. I had come from a more conservative cultural background. [But] definitely [considered] outsiders, especially in that we were listening to different things as well: Grand Funk Railroad, Chicago, Mandrill.

You did the solo thing for a while before you stepped into the 1980s with the band, Cosmetic.

Which was completely about the sound and style of the day. I was a bit of an outsider at places like [the members-only] East Side Club, as there were a few blacks – not many – but I knew a lot of guys elsewhere. My friend Nile Rodgers worked with David Bowie and Power Station. Then again, the music I was making wasn’t as slick as that, so I considered myself an outsider [to that style]. I think I felt fully embraced when I went to work with Ornette and all of the downtown NYC cats – avant-garde guys [who were the white and black]. [During that time], I was an insider and an outsider. I could consider all of what I wanted to do, in terms of music and design.

One thing fans never expected you to do as the ultimate electric bassist, is to pull up on the upright bass. That almost seemed too traditional for you. Now, however, you use it on occasion.

And, trying to take [it] into an outsider situation. All that time, I was busy checking out the Stray Cats. All the early Motown records, James Jamerson, all those guys [played the] upright bass.

Considering all that you just said and all that you have been and done, how has that changed who you are as a player and now as a presenter for your upcoming Outsiders Fest?

All of [those experiences] made me who I am today. I’m able to know about all things creative, beautiful and upgrading in human excellence. Because I was able to navigate all of these various worlds, I got to know all of its people. I think [that resonates with] the [musicians] I have had for past festivals, and those coming through Philly, starting this weekend.



Three weeks of eclectic sound comes to Philadelphia courtesy of the Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival beginning April 14. April is Jazz Appreciation Month in Philadelphia and for the fifth year in a row, native son Jamaaladeen Tacuma has made sure his stamp is on it. Here’s where you can check out the festival without having to stray too far.

Sunday, April 14

SOUTH Jazz Parlor, 600 N. Broad St., 7pm-8:15pm. $25.

Sunday, April 21

Milkboy Philadelphia, 1100 Chestnut St. 3-5pm. $25.

Friday, April 26

Community Education Center (CEC), 3500 Lancaster Avenue, 7-11pm. $25.

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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