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World Music CD Reviews Africa

MARKUS JAMES

By Stacy Meyn
Published June 22, 2006

Nightbird
Firenze Records

Markus James is a San Francisco minstrel fond of Malian music, producing Afropop WorldWide shows and doing well on African radio with his 5th album (Where You Wanna Be). He's also made many friends. Recorded in Mali, Nightbird features James' blues-infused vocals and guitar with numerous Malian performers. Notable are Ali Farka Toure's calabash player Hamma Sankare and Baaba Maal's Senegalese tama (talking drum) master Massamba Diop.  Both the title track (inspired by a chirpy Niger River beastie and recorded in one take) and "Midnight" showcase the calabash (a percussion instrument constructed from a large gourd) and guitar. Other songs are lively tales about Biblical history ("Goin' Home"), love ("Pharaoh's Daughter", "Awo"), and especially the importance of water: "Child See the Rider", "Are You Thirsty (Land of Plenty)", "Rain", "One Drop", and "River Risin'." More Malian instrumentalists include Manding-style guitarist Mama Sissoko (adored by Mali's president), kamelengoni (harp) player Solo Sidibe, and Hassi Sare on njarka (a one-stringed violin). Guest vocalists are Wassoulou singer Jeneba Diakite and Tennessee blues vocalist Sarah Baker John Lee Hooker, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Johnny Shines).