He was a well-known griot/musician among the Hausa people of West Africa. His vocals were often accompanied by talking drums, known as kalangu. He performed for the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria and even non-Hausas for more than half a century.
Mamman Shata's mother, Lariya, was of the Fulani ethnic stock known as Fulata-Borno, the Fulani people who migrated from the Borno Empire after the Fulani Jihad of 1804 and settled in parts of Hausa land. She was born in Tofa town in the Kano Emirate and met Shata's father, Ibrahim Yaro, when she went there to visit a relative. Subsequently, they got married. Lariya had a son from a previous marriage and had two children with Yaro, Mamman Shata and his sister Yalwa.
Ibrahim Yaro was also of the Fulani ethnic group. His own ancestors came from Sanyinna in the Sokoto area. They had migrated to the Katsina area and settled in the forests around the present Musawa area. They were credited with the founding of Musawa itself, with the Musa, their head, founding a small settlement that was subsequently named after him.
Shata went to an Islamic school as a boy, according to Hausa Muslim tradition.
Musawa village was under the Katsina Native Authority (N.A.) when Shata was born. When the Local Governments were created it came under Kankia Local Government. Today, Musawa is a Local Government of its own in Katsina State.
Ibrahim Yaro did not want his son to become a musician due to widely held belief that music or praise-singing was a form of 'roko' or begging. His father, being a Fulani man, expected the young Shata to become a farmer or a trader, either of which was a more dignified occupation. Shata's insistence on becoming a musician was therefore seen as a rebellion against the norm.
Shata acquired his sobriquet of 'Shata' from a man called Baba Salamu, a relative of his. Shata as a young man was engaged in selling kola nuts and after the sale he would share the profit to people he met on his way home or in the market and came back empty handed. When asked what he did with the money he made, he would answer, "Na yi shata da su," i.e. he had given it away. As a result, Baba Salamu would be calling him 'Mai-Shata', meaning one who fritters away his gains.