The Journey

Maryam Mursal, 2012

The journey of this 1998 record's title is a very literal one, as experienced by Maryam Mursal and her five children when they underwent a seven-month odyssey - on foot, by donkey, by truck - to escape the trials and tribulations of their native Somalia. That this harrowing journey is recounted in such an uplifting, positive and downright funky manner is far more than we have a right to expect. A diamond-hard rhythm section and chunky horns lay the foundation for Maryam's passionate, soul-dripping voice.

Eventually finding asylum in Denmark, Maryam began to think about rebuilding her singing career. Throughout her remarkable journey she had kept a journal and it provided powerful material for her songwriting. At the same time by happy coincidence she met up with the Danish arranger Søren Kjaer Jensen. Jensen had come across Maryam's music when working in Somalia as a freelance photographer in 1986 and had recorded her extraordinary voice from a radio broadcast. Visiting a Somalian immigrant camp in Denmark he heard her singing to 300 fellow refugees and realized it was the same voice. Jensen brought Maryam to the attention of Real World.

The Journey is a highly charged modern take on Maryam's Somalian roots. Produced by Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell (Afro Celt Sound System) with Jensen, it features guitars, sequencers and backing vocals from Peter Gabriel, yet never strays far from its African origins. "She's amazing, she's got everything," Emmerson says. As an instant African classic thrillingly uniting the ancient and modern he puts the album on a par with Baaba Maal's incendiary "Firin In Fouta," which he also produced.

Maryam is perfectly at ease working with a more contemporary approach. She began singing professionally as a teenager in Mogadishu in 1966, the first woman in a deeply male-dominated Islamic society. Brought up in the Muslim faith, she was steeped in the traditional music of her country - a remarkable hybrid sound of African and Arabic influences created by centuries of cross-cultural fertilization between migrating nomadic tribes. But from her earliest years she also eagerly absorbed every influence she could find.

"I began singing in night clubs thirty years ago in Somalia," says Mursal. "Traditional music is very important to me but I was also listening to people like Ray Charles, The Beatles, everything." Another western artist she admires is Etta James and it is easy to see a link between the two women - both have a big, uncompromising vocal style. Although little to do with jazz as we know it in the west, the rich, cultural stew which she developed of African and western sounds, dance music and traditional song, became known as "Somali jazz" and Maryam became a household name.

Reviews

  • ...dynamic vocal performance from Maryam Mursal. The sound of contemporary Somalia with a dynamic vocal performance from Maryam Mursal. Whopping chunky brass and thunderous bass and percussion bring in a highly charged set of songs perfectly captured by the Real World engineers. Piccadilly Records (UK)
  • Relying on her unbroken spirit and sandy resolve... ...Mursal tells her story with terrific grace and ebullience even as she mourns her country's difficulties. She’s been through too much to do a polite, sad documentary. Rolling Stone (1998) (USA)
  • The very first listen to Mursal will tell you this: she is an authentic, incredible talent... ...a singer of great range and passion and an adept juggler of cultural sounds and styles ... The journey actually sounds like an international achievement ... to create a wonderful music that is both distinctive and unusual, and yet totally inviting. Option Magazine (1998) (USA)
  • Somali singer Maryam Mursal is blessed with haunting vocals... ...that pierce your soul, and a keen storytelling ability... Mursal is poised for international stardom. Black Elegance (1998) (USA)
  • To put it simply: 'The Journey ' is an album that definitively puts Maryam Mursal up amongst the stars... ...a fantastic, beautiful result of international format. A captivating and exciting mix of afro-arabic and western music. Djembe (1998) (Denmark)
  • Her debut album is a sophisticated voyage undertaken with strings and percussion. Mursal . . . has a fearless, smooth voice and a pop sensibility that brings ‘The Journey’ back home. Marie Claire (1998) (USA)
  • I can't recall when an Afro-pop record bowled me over... ...the way Maryam Mursal's has ... as good as world music gets. Request (1998) (USA)
  • Funkier than a room full of snowboarders. You experiment with this rhythmic colossus at your peril - inhale it and you could win the giant slalom, break the world speed record and fly a balloon around the world. Undoubtedly the funkiest LP ever to come courtesy of the Danish Music Council. Time Out (1998) (UK)
  • A voice that pleads for home ... Far and away the funkiest album ever connected to Denmark . . . sympathetic but indomitable, a woman who knows what she wants . . . her voice is as rich and assertive as those of Margareth Menezes of Brazil and Angelique Kidjo of Benin. ‘The Journey’ rides Somalian melodies into a cross-cultural wonderland. Mursal and her arranger, Soren Kjaer Jensen, realized that her voice could stand up to just about anything. Mursal sounds too tough to let herself be reduced to an exotic sonic ingredient. When she tours this summer as part of Africa Fete, her forthright voice will not be denied. New York Times (1998) (USA)
  • Deep, dirty funk from Somalia, anyone? ...the kind of classic funk that would have suited Sweet Sweetback's Baadass Song. Mojo (1998) (UK)
  • If you're looking for an artist who stands for something big... ... - who moves you, impresses you, and broadens you while thrilling you - here she is, cutting through it all. Interview (1998) (USA)
  • "... compelling listening ... her voice packs a powerful and emotional punch. Music Week (1998) (UK)
  • Truly breathtaking... If this album does not propel her ... to consideration as one of the world's great female voices, up there with your Aretha's, there ain't no justice: Folk Roots (1998) (UK)
  • Mursal's honey-smoked alto weaves a hypnotic web... ...of back-home ululations and R&B diva moanings. The Journey and Mursal swing beautifully. Twenty-first century global soul begins here. March 1998 Vibe (USA)
  • Funky and infectious, it deserves to be the crossover hit of the year. What’s On In London (1998) (UK)
  • This ... is a joyful collage of influences. This music feels like hobbling on stillettos when you're used to flats: it'll force you to use muscles you didn't know you had. Jane Magazine (1998) (USA)