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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

When Paul Simon collaborated with African musicians on his 1986 album "Graceland," he was showcasing sounds that seemed strange to many American ears.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Other musicians, including Peter Gabriel and Ry Cooder, had similar collaborations in the 1980s and '90s. And today, a new generation of American musicians is creating homegrown rock music with a West African twist. Reviewer Banning Eyre sees a trend in three CDs out this year.

(Soundbite of music)

BANNING EYRE: Singer-songwriter Markus James has long traveled to West Africa to compose and record his bluesy songs with local musicians there. After all, blues' and rock's African pioneers mostly traced their heritage to the region we now call Senegal, Gambia, and Mali.

(Soundbite of song "Snakeskin Violin")

Mr. MARKUS JAMES: (Singing) Do I know, do I care. Oh I live in (unintelligible)

EYRE: Markus James' fifth CDs, "Snakeskin Violin" treats American and West African roots music as one seamless continuum. For James, to fill out a blues vamp with a savanna hunter's harp or a desert calabash rhythm, comes as naturally as quoting a John Lee Hooker riff. And after nearly 15 years of refining his approach, James is now getting airplay in places like Lafayette, Louisiana and Austin, Texas.

(Soundbite of song "Snakeskin Violin")

Mr. MARKUS JAMES: (Singing) Are you satisfied? Are you satisfied? Go to sorry song come on down, Babylon. I won't let it. I won't let it.

EYRE: Markus James is a pioneer in reconnecting blues with its deep, African DNA. But he's not alone anymore.

(Soundbite of song "Alliance")

EYRE: While James was making his trips to Mali, a musician from Senegal - Guelel Kumba, settled in Oxford, Mississippi where he co-founded a band called Afrissippi. Starting from the African side of the equation, Kumba finds common ground with Americans schooled in North Mississippi blues. This is the opening track from Afrissippi's second CD, "Alliance."

(Soundbite of song "Alliance")

EYRE: Afrissippi and Markus James arrived at their Africanized rock formulations after years of experience in more established genres. Meanwhile, five twentysomething guys in Asheville, North Carolina came out of the gate in 2005 as Toubab Krewe, toubab being a West African term for a white person.

(Soundbite of song "Singha")

EYRE: Most of the players in Toubab Krewe have studied music in West Africa, internalizing rhythms, repertoire, melodic language, and even instrumental techniques. Their amped-up take on the music rarely includes any vocals and it's making big waves on the jam-band circuit. Here's Toubab Krewe's version of the Malian classic "Kaira," from their brand-new CD "Live At The Orange Peel."

(Soundbite of song "Kaira")

EYRE: The gyrating fans at Toubab Krewe's packed shows probably don't spend much time pondering the Atlantic slave trade, and how it infused African ideas into the incubator of American music. That's just the point. Markus James, Afrissippi, and Toubab Krewe are not part of a world-music trend, but rather the ongoing emergence of Africa in American mainstream culture. They're cousins of out-and-out pop bands like Vampire Weekend, East African Rockers, Extra Golden and other young groups that blend African and American idioms. Using music, rather than words, these artists are showing us who we really are, and after all these years, it seems we're ready to listen.

(Soundbite of song "Kaira")

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at Afropop.org. He discussed "Snakeskin Violin" by Markus James, "Alliance" by Afrissippi, and "Live at the Orange Peel" by Toubab Krewe. You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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