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Maryam Mursal
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Maryam Mursal

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Maryam Mursal

Birth country: Somalia

b. 1 January 1950, Mogadishu, Somalia. Mursal began singing professionally at 16, performing the mix of blues, soul African and Arabic influences known locally as Somali jazz. Her warm, deep voice initially drew comparisons with American singers such as Etta James. As well as solo performances, she also sang with Waaberi, the 300-strong music and dance troupe associated with the Somalian National Theatre.

However, growing political unrest in Somalia led many of the members of Waaberi into exile in different parts of the world. Mursal herself was forced to work as a taxi driver following a national ban on her music, resulting from a song she had written criticizing the government. With the break-out of full-scale civil war, Mursal, fearing for the safety of her family, fled the country with her five young children.

Having walked for an incredible seven months, they eventually arrived in Djibouti, where they were given asylum by the Danish Embassy.In Denmark Mursal was reunited with members of Waaberi, who had already settled there, and with whom she recorded New Dawn. It featured Mursal and other vocalists backed by percussion and oud (Arabic lute), performing a mixture of Somalian folk songs and modern material, some of it written by Mursal.

The group toured throughout Europe to promote the album in 1997, including a support slot for Nina Simone at London's Barbican Theatre. The Journey, Mursal's international solo debut, was released a year later. A collection of songs relating to her seven-month trek across the Horn of Africa, it featured backing vocals from Peter Gabriel and was produced by Simon Emmerson.

On the record, the latter developed the fusion of progressive dance music and traditional influences he had previously explored in his work with Baaba Maal and the Afro-Celt Sound System, while at the same time retaining the essential personality of Mursal's music.


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