At first glance, Tamtam is a woman with gravity-defying golden curls. Listen to her sing, and powerful vocals will fall on your ears. However, the singer is much more than her appearance and voice, and her latest EP Ismak proves just that. Born in Saudi Arabia and based in Los Angeles, Tamtam, whose birth name is Reem Altamimi, is gearing up to release five soul-searching tracks in January 2022, sung in both English and Arabic. Ahead of it, our former cover star offered Vogue Arabia an exclusive look at the title track and its music video.
With the song ‘Ismak’, Tamtam is not only inviting listeners into her kaleidoscopic world with open arms, but is also embracing all her strengths and flaws with them. “‘Ismak’ is about the power that comes with loving every part of myself,” explains Tamtam. “‘Ismak’ means ‘your name’ in the masculine form in Arabic. Our name is a huge part of our identity, and in this song, I am speaking to the feminine and masculine parts of myself.” Since the singer’s personality is a product of her Saudi nationality, Syrian roots, and growing up in the US, it was important to have it all represented in this particular song. “The intro is chanted in a Saudi accent, and the chorus of the song is in a Syrian accent. I am also embracing the Western parts of myself in this song since I’ve always been inspired by English music growing up, and I’ve been living in California since high school,” says Tamtam.
The song came together in Paris, where the singer worked with producer Malca and Moroccan creative director Mohamed Sqalli for the first time. “Most of my music is in English, so I automatically started thinking in English when I got on the mic, but the melodies didn’t feel right,” shares Tamtam. “And then Mo said, ‘Why don’t you try Arabic?’ So I switched gears and started thinking in Arabic, and when that happened, we got the melody of the chorus, It was instant and felt so right.” The music video directed by Belgian collective Bleu Nuit sees Tamtam’s vocals accompanied by stirring visuals of a group of women including herself dancing the Ardah, a Saudi sword dance traditionally performed by men. The chant, too, is voiced by women instead of men. “It’s usually done before a battle, or to celebrate a victory, and the lyrics are more about love—and the war that comes with love, or with loving something,” says the singer. Styled by Saudi creative Latifa Bint Saad, Tamtam wears two modest looks paired with armor-like jewelry in the new video, and has her brown mane pulled back in a sleek bun by Moroccan makeup artist Karima Maruan.
While the singer is sharing her song with the world today, the foundation for it was laid years ago by her teenage Saudi immigrant self in the US. “I lacked confidence when I left Saudi because my Arabic became weak and people would notice whenever I’d visit the Kingdom. They always asked me why my Arabic isn’t strong, and why I don’t look Saudi,” she shares. When asked how one overcomes such a situation, Tamtam advises, “The first part is to try to understand where it’s coming from. Once I became confident about who I am and with my flaws, not just my strengths, it changed everything.” She hopes the song will instill the same confidence in its listeners. “I want them to know that it’s okay for more than one place to feel like home. It’s important to be proud of that.”