The Journey cover

The Journey

Released

Maryam Mursal is one of Somalia’s great singers — one of the world’s great female voices, even. Her skill lies in her ability to straddle both tradition and experimentation, a quality which clearly shines through on The Journey, a 1998 album released by Peter Gabriel’s Real World Recordings (he even supplies some backing vocals). Mursal’s career started in the mid 1960s, before Somalia’s Golden Era had truly begun. Rather than the disco that would influence the likes of Sahra Dawo only a few years later, Mursal drew inspiration from great Black R&B singers like Etta James, and her music was always big, soulful, and jazzy, incorporating the pentatonic modes characteristic of Somali music. This album, which came out several years after she was forced to make a grueling five month journey with her family to escape Somalia’s violent civil war, turns it up a notch: her voice is powerful and uncompromising, the arrangements rich and enveloping, more experimental than her previous work. Just listen to “Hamar’’ for example, a slow burner that incorporates spacious synth pads and notes from a plucked kaban, before a synth bass line and Mursal’s breathless ululations collide.

Megan Iacobini de Fazio

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