Friday, the Miners Foundry Cultural Center and Paul Emery Music present acclaimed blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Markus James. Along with his band, The Wassonrai, James blends roots and blues music with the traditional sounds of the Wassoulou and Sonrai peoples of Mali, Africa.
James is part of a new generation of American musicians creating West African-inspired rock music that started with Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Ry Cooder and even Bonnie Rait in the 1980s and ’90s and now includes contemporary pop artists like Vampire Weekend and Damon Albarn of Blur.
Originally from Virginia and the Washington D.C. area, James first encountered West African stringed music at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival where he was mesmerized by the Gambian Kora player and singer, Alhaji Bai Konte. James settled in Sonoma, writing and recording in rock and R&B styles while also pursuing his interests in African, Indian, and Gamelan music. He traveled to West Africa and also Haiti to study 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 James first recorded original, blues-based songs with Wassoulou musician Solo Sidibe, which became the “Where You Wanna Be” album, released in 2001. Since then, James has released four other albums, all to critical acclaim. From his 2002 release “Nightbird” which Billboard Magazine called “one of the deepest listening experiences” to his most recent album “Snakeskin Violin,” which Blues Revue Magazine called “a vital mix of the Mississippi Delta and Mali, a cultural exchange of haunting beauty and mystery”, James has been instrumental in exposing American audiences to West African roots music.
In the U.S., Markus tours with The Wassonrai, featuring Wassoulou musician Mamadou Sidibe and Amadou Camara. The music features the Kameme n’goni, the eight-stringed hunter’s harp of the Wassoulou people, kurubu and njarka violin of the Sonrai people, as well as calabash and Bolon, the three-stringed gourd bass. The vocals alternate between Bambara, Sonrai and English.
James and The Wassonrai promise a rollicking night of music full of West African drumming with n’goni funk, some North Mississippi-style trance riffs, singing and rapping in English and Bambara, some incredible harmonica, and jammin’ 20-minute songs.
Tickets are $18 for Miner’s Foundry members, $20 for non-members, and can be purchased online at www.nevadacityboxoffice.org, by calling (530) 265-5462, in person at the Nevada City Box Office, located at the Foundry, or at BriarPatch Co-op.
For information, go to www.minerfoundry.org.