Carlyle Brown traveled abroad to do what a lot of Americans do at some point during their lives: uncover his roots. But that's not such an easy task for an African-American who doesn't know exactly where it is that his forebears came from. In his search, Brown hit most of West Africa, making his way through Senegal, Mali, Gambia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. He bumped brains and backpacks with all sorts of folks, from fellow travelers to dwellers of the deep bush to members of the upper-class African elite.
The trip, which he took back in 1981, became fodder for Brown's engrossing solo show, The Fula From America: An African Journey. The title comes from one of the many identities Brown was pegged with while in Africa: The Charleston-born, New York-reared theater artist was often mistaken for a Fula -- a member of the Muslim desert tribe that came to West Africa from the Sudan -- at least until he opened his mouth. Take this fascinating geographical and emotional journey starting at 8 tonight (and continuing through March 27) at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org.
-- Karen Macklin
Rufus returns to S.F.
Foppish, fey, and gifted by God with the dark, brooding looks that go so well with romantic pop ballads, singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright gained rapt attention in certain circles with his eponymous 1998 debut release. Defiantly open about his vices (which until recently included a heavy meth habit) and his preferences (the gay singer swiftly outed himself in his first media interviews), Wainwright seemed marked by his tabloid-ready confessions as merely a troublesome troubadour whose personal life was more interesting than his music. But with a voice that resembles Bob Dylan's after a long, hard night and music that combines Nick Drake's minor-key melancholia with Elton John's keyboard-heavy orchestration, Wainwright adamantly refuses any potential pigeonholes. And with the 2004 release of Want One, chockablock with lush instrumentation and an eccentric mélange of styles, the singer's eclecticism is even more delightfully apparent. Hear him at 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary (at Fillmore), S.F. Admission is $27.50; call 346-6000 or visit www.thefillmore.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
My New Crush
Tami Hart makes us gaga
Granted, I have a weakness for fresh-faced punk rock baby dykes with politics as earnest as their music. Even so, while the woman-with-guitar genre is a sweet respite from rowdier anthems, after a few drowsy selections I've had all the schmaltz I can take. But Tami Hart's catchy, heart-rending 2002 album, No Light in August, is different -- it makes me feel like I went to take a sip of water and instead fell down an unfathomably deep well. See the just-out-of-high-school crooner at the Eagle Tavern's "Thursday Night Live" series, with the Fens and Full Moon Partisans opening at 9:30 p.m., at 398 12th St. (at Harrison), S.F. Admission is $5; call 626-0880 or visit www.sfeagle.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Mosh + Twang
Altcountry has become synonymous with middle-aged dorks in bad flannels, guys who sip microbrews and utter faux-cowpoke hoots and hollers. But when the bastard child of C&W and punk was newborn, its distorted anthems could simultaneously kick your ass and tear your heart out. Memphis' Lucero promises a reminder of such true grit starting at 9 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Missouri), S.F. Admission is $7; call 621-4455 or go to www.bottomofthehill.com.
-- Nate Cavalieri