The Journey

Maryam Mursal

Released 16 March 1998

  1. Lei Lei (I Feel Alone)
  2. Kufilaw (Take Care)
  3. Somali Udiida Ceb (Somalia, Don't Shame Yourself)
  4. Sodewou (Welcome)
  5. Hamar (The Big City)
  6. Qax (Refugee)
  7. Nin Hun (Bad Man)
  8. Fejigno (Beware)

Liner notes

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.

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. The New York Times, 1998

Qax (Refugee)

“I stumble, I stagger, I ramble on
The day I leave Mogadishu
the air is full of gunfire
All over you see dead bodies
and blood is on the hands
Some atrocities I must cover
my eyes not to see
I stumble, I stagger, I ramble on”

Maryam Mursal fled Somalia with five children at the height of the civil war. She was to walk, ride on donkeys and trucks through the desert for seven exhausting months before reaching safety. On the way she wrote ‘Qax/Refugee’. This epic is the tragic story of Maryam’s flight. She tells of the tragedy as the fighting survivor – proud and adamant, she insists that peace must prevail so that the country may rise again.

Somali Udiida Ceb (Somalia Don’t Shame Yourself)

Do not accept shame for the Somali people and reject disrespect and insult.

It is the nature of our land for the floods to overflow, and the two rivers bring rich silt and soil good for growing cereals.  It only needs the seeds to be dispersed and the harvest will be in abundance.

When you see the countless camels grazing in countryside and the countless cattle bellowing and then see how poor and needy are people are— the richness and the poverty do not fit each other and for that the world is astounded and amazed. Oh! You Somali people— struggle to secure peace, do not accept shame and reject disrespect.

The nature of our land, its winds and climate, its oceans teaming with fish, the riches it contains, the minerals it embeds, and the way sheep and goats move about grazing side by side with the wildlife— this does not fit the way our land has been destroyed and that is why the world is astounded and amazed.  Oh! You Somali people— try very hard to restore peace, do not accept shame and reject disrespect.

Lyrics by Yusuf Aden


  • Deep, dirty funk from Somalia MOJO (UK)
  • 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 (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 (USA)
  • 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 (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. Vibe (USA)
Maryam Mursal performs 'Somali Udiida Ceb' in The Big Room at Real World Studios in 2001 for the BBC documentary Spirit of Africa


The band: Maryam Mursal: lead vocals, Søren Kjær Jensen: bass guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, Lars Daugaard Nielsen: drums, Jacob Andersen: percussion, Turid Nørlund Christensen: backing vocals, Kasper Søderlund Jensen: guitars,

Musicians from Waaberi: Kadra Dahir: backing vocals, Nima Yassin: backing vocals, Salah Qasim: oud, backing vocals, Abdi Nuur Allaleh: backing vocals, Sheikh Ahmed ‘Madey’: backing vocals, Mohamed Ali ‘Kunail’: backing vocals.

Our distinguished guest musicians: Hossam Ramzy: percussion, Peter Gabriel: backing vocals, Ashley Maher: backing vocals, Kim Burton: solo accordion, grand piano, Torben Egeris: accordion, Kristian Jørgensen: solo violin, Simon Emmerson: guitar on ‘Somali Udiida Ceb’, Fernando Ferraz: surdu on ‘Nin Hun’.

Produced by Simon Emmerson, Søren Kjær Jensen and Martin Russell. Arrangements and programming by Søren Kjær Jensen, except ‘Hamar’ by Simon Emmerson. Additional programming, arrangement and dry cleaning by Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell, including Ron Aslan and Gerry Prince on ‘Somali Udiida Ceb’. Vocoding on ‘Sodewou’ by Jesper ‘Kæv’ Glieman Strings by Electra Strings. String orchestration by Claus Holten Hansen and Lasse Laursen, conducted by Søren Kjær. Jensen Horns by The Kick Horns . Recorded by Martin Russell at Real World Studios, Swanyard, Hear No Evil and Sonic Innovation. Additional recording at Target Music by Søren Kjær Jensen. Engineering assistance by Russell Kearney and Marco Migliari. Mixed by Martin Russell at Real World Studios. Mastered by Ian Cooper at Metropolis

Sample featured in ‘Lei Lei’: ‘Chicken Talk’ from the album Yma Sumac: Mambo (1956 Capitol Records Inc, reissued by EMI Music) published by Beechwood Music Corp (BMI)/Ardmore. Horns in ‘Lei Lei’ programmed by Søren Kjær Jensen using samples from ‘Albie Donnelly’s Killer Horns’ and ‘Yma Sumac: Mambo’.

A Real World Design. Graphic design by Tristan Manco. Art direction by Michael Coulson. Photography and photo manipulation by Marcelo Benfield, except photograph of Mogadishu at night by Søren Kjær Jensen Wardrobe styling by Gitte Meldgaard. Make-up by Charlotte Day. Sleeve notes by Søren Kjær Jensen.

Thanks to: Cat Productions and Jan Thøgersen, Søren Svensson, Hans Andersen, Kenny Werner. Maryam: I thank Allah for his grace towards me, now and in the future. Thanks also to Søren for his dedication and hard work. I hope that my country Somalia will prosper again, and that our flag will fly with pride. Søren Kjær Jensen: Thanks to everyone involved over the years. I dedicate this work to my parents, wherever they are now. Søren Kjær Jensen plays Mørch basses. Thanks to TC Electronic for great gear, Brüel & Kjær, Drum City/DW Drums, DK Music/Paiste Cymbals, Slagtøjcentret.

  • New Dawn


    Released 20 July 1997

    A circle of singers sit on decorated pillows, drinking sweet tea. The atmosphere is intense but relaxed as they slowly warm up, singing their way through old songs of love and death, of the beautiful lover with the long neck, of desire and of the sensible advice of the wise old men.
  • République Amazone

    Les Amazones d’Afrique

    Released 10 March 2017

    Les Amazones d'Afrique are an all-female collective of west African musicians campaigning for gender equality. They have been described as a supergroup, and the characterisation seems apt. Angélique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté, Mamani Keita, Mariam Doumbia, Mariam Koné, Massan Coulibaly, Mouneissa Tandina, Nneka, Pamela Badjogo and Rokia Koné hold a strong pedigree.

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