Markus James is originally from Virginia and the DC area, where his first musical memory, from the age of four, is of a blind blues singer he saw many times playing on a sidewalk. Markus 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. After playing in various rock and R&B groups, Markus moved to the SF Bay Area where he pursued his interests in African, Indian, and Gamelan music, while also writing and recording original music in various rock styles. 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 Ali Farka Toure. It was then that he first recorded with Wassoulou musician Solo Sidibe, and this 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", which has been warmly received by critics in the US and Europe.
His 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 upcoming CD / DVD release "Timbuktoubab". This group has performed at the Festival In The Desert in 2003 and 2004, as well as in Timbuktu and other towns and villages in Northern Mali.
In the US, Markus tours with a group featuring Wassoulou musician Mamadou Sidibe. They have performed on numerous radio shows, including PRI / BBC's "The World", at festivals, and in clubs, and have an album due in early 2005.