Markus James

Snakeskin Violin

“profound world blues passage… extremely distinctive pieces, driven by a seductive rhythmic circularity that’s a keystone of Malian traditional tunes and Delta blues.”

“In his most varied and satisfying album to date, James delivers 15 songs that range from brooding minimalism to rollicking fusions of African and American sensibilities. …an artist who has done as much as anyone to kick open the doors too long separating American and West African roots music.”

“The mix of sounds, instruments, and influences spanning the program is mind-boggling” 

“Africa and Mississippi come together…”

“This is an extremely powerful album”
—Ben Manilla, Executive Producer, House of Blues Radio Hour

—Elwood Blues

Markus James’ Snakeskin Violin featured on:

House of Blues Radio Hour
Afropop Worldwide
Blues Deluxe
XM Cafe

Markus James interviewed in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight
“Markus James takes blues back to its African roots” —
reviews of previous albums
“A vital mix of the Mississippi Delta and Mali, a cultural exchange of haunting beauty and mystery.” 

“” —Roots Music Report

“Music that conjures the very soul of the Sahara…evokes the spirit of the blues.”
—Billboard Magazine

“Excellent… ” —Global Rhythm Magazine

“Timbuktoubab is a moving listening experience from start to finale, and will surely be remembered at the end of the year as one of the finest world music titles.”
—Metro Magazine

“Eerily atmospheric… ” —Downbeat Magazine

Markus James and the Wassonrai
“Timbuktoubab was a highlight of the Mill Valley Film Festival. The bridge between U.S. blues and traditional Malian music was made palpable, both onscreen and in live performances by Markus James and The Wassonrai. It was a dynamic and memorable event for an enthusiastic audience.
–Zoë Elton, Director of Programming, Mill Valley Film Festival
“James’ celebration of the universality of legends and spiritual themes is outdone only by his pleasure in working the West African roots of the blues…

Timbuktoubab…played to sold-out, soundly applauded screenings at

the Mill Valley Film Festival this year.”

–Jeff Kaliss, San Francisco Chronicle
Festival in the Desert Tour Review, Los Angeles Times:
American guitarist-singer-songwriter James — who has been recording and performing his original blues-based, Mali-tinged numbers for a decade — appeared with a pair of traditional Malian musicians. Accompanied by the African kora and calabash drum, James’ rich baritone voice blended amiably with the seemingly unlikely sounds, enlivened by his rhythmic strumming and bottleneck slides.
James’ compositions largely abandoned familiar blues chords in favor of a hypnotic suspension of moving harmonies and an emphasis on lyrical expressiveness — particularly effective in numbers such as “Weathervane” and “Do You Do?”
–Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times
“Markus and The Wassonrai performed their magic to a very appreciative crowd…The evening was superb!”

–Kim Caruso, Director, Sebastopol Community Center
“His shows are mesmerizing! Guiding his talented musicians therough their musical journeys with confidence and ease, Markaus James draws us in ot his world which includes destinations from Mali to Memphis.”
—Bill Bowker, KRSH, Santa Rosa, CA
“Markus James bridges two cultures with his blues guitar and the help of Mamadou Sidibe’s kamele n’goni.”

—Marco Werman, “the World”, BBC / PRI
“Subscribers and single ticket buyers alike raved about the soul-touching music.”
—Tegan McLane, Sunnyvale Performing Arts Center
“His orginal approach to blues music combining American Roots Blues with West African roots music is such a soul filled experience.

They created some magical music.”

—Fred “Freddie Blue” Goodrich, WWOZ, New Orleans, LA
Markus James is originally from Virginia and the DC area, where his first musical memory, from the age of four, is of an old, blind blues singer he saw many times playing on a sidewalk. He first encountered West African stringed music at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival when he was mesmerized by the Gambian Kora player and singer, Alhaji Bai Konte. Markus settled in Northern California, writing and recording in rock and R&B styles while also pursuing his interests in African, Indian, and Gamelan music. He travelled in West Africa and also Haiti, studying traditional ensemble drumming, before first visiting Mali in 1994, when he made his way to the village of Niafounke to meet the legendary “Malian Bluesman”, Ali Farka Toure. It was then that Markus first recorded original, Blues-based songs with Wassoulou musician Solo Sidibe, which became the “where you wanna be” album, released 6 years later. He has produced several programs for PRI’s Afropop Worldwide, notably “Ali Farka Toure: Live From Niafounke”.
Markus has returned to Mali many times, where he has written and recorded blues-influenced music with traditional Malian musicians, notably his 2002 release “nightbird”, and 2005’s album and film “Timbuktoubab”, which have been warmly received by critics in the US and Europe. He has performed at the Festival In The Desert, near Timbuktu, in 2003, 2004, and 2006; and in 2007 and 2008, Markus performed at the Ali Farka Toure Festivals in Bamako and Niafounke, Mali.
Markus’ collaborations in Timbuktu with Hamma Sankare (Calabash player on Ali Farka Toure’s tours and albums), Hassi Sare (master of the one-stringed Njarka violin), and Solo Sidibe (who plays the Kamele N’Goni, the hunter’s harp of the Wassoulou people) are the subject of the documentary film and CD / DVD “Timbuktoubab”. The film has been presented by 3 Film Festivals, broadcast frequently on national satellite channel Link TV (Direct TV and Dish networks), and on many PBS stations. The album spent 10 weeks on the CMJ New World radio top 20 chart, reflecting the programming tastes of over 200 music hosts.
Markus’ release, “Calabash Blues”, includes tributes to Blues legends Skip James and Howlin Wolf; each song features the traditional sound and rhythms of the calabash, recorded at the source of the ancient roots of Blues music. Calabash Blues spent 17 weeks in the top 20 of the Roots Blues airplay chart, with tracks featured on the nationally syndicated House of Blues Radio Hour, Blues Deluxe, and the BBC’s True Blues.
“Nightbird is one of the deepest listening experiences that will hit the U.S. market this year.”

“A vital mix of the Mississippi Delta and Mali, a cultural exchange of haunting beauty and mystery.”

“The Best Music issue, 2003”
“One of the most inspired and arresting world music/blues albums”
“This is a hypnotic journey through time that goes all the way to the heart of the blues.”

“The word soulful certainly describes this excellent CD, which blues, rock, and Afro-pop enthusiasts should all be aware of.”

(4 & 1/2 stars)
“Spare, moody, and beautiful, it builds a bridge between continents, and takes the blues home.”


Markus James and the Wassonrai

Markus James and the Wassonrai

Markus James and Timbuktoubab

Markus James and Timbuktoubab

Markus James – Snakeskin Violin

Markus James

Recorded in Mali and Mississippi