An incredibly wide variety of pop music can be found on the African continent. Some styles of African pop can be exuberant and relentlessly energetic, including soukous, zouk, and makossa. But moody, dusky, and haunting are some of the adjectives that describe a lot of the Afro-pop that has come from Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Mali. On Nightbird, San Francisco singer/songwriter Markus James successfully finds the parallels between Malian pop, rock, and the blues, specifically, the sort of dusky, haunting blues that worked so well for John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins. Recorded in Bamako, Mali, during the summer of 2000, this excellent CD isn't easy to categorize. Blues, rock, and Malian pop are all influences, and on Nightbird, slide guitar sounds perfectly natural alongside traditional African instruments like the calabash, the njarka, and the tama. The people joining James (whose earthy vocals have a Mick Jagger-ish quality) range from Malian musicians (including Afro-pop artist Mama Sissoko) to American singer Sarah Baker. Bring all of these different artists and influences together and the end results are as enriching as they are intriguing. Nightbird could be described as Mick Jagger meets John Lee Hooker meets Habib Koite (who is one of Mali's top pop singers and is best known for his early-'90s hit "Cigarette a Bana"). Obviously, James sees the parallels between Hooker's blues and Malian pop: both can be very moody, not to mention soulful. And the word soulful certainly describes this excellent CD, which blues, rock, and Afro-pop enthusiasts should all be aware of.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson