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Maryam Mursal: The Journey

From the seductive outset of Maryam Mursal’s fine debut album The Journey (RealWorld 2370; 53:04), our sense of geo-stylistic identity is pleasantly confused. A warble-funky rhythm guitar part with a distinct New Orleans character kicks off the infectious tune “Lei Lei,” accented with syncopated punches before we land in a steaming groove second line lope with African rhythmic webbing and Arabic colors. When the soulful Somalian enters with her musky, bold voice, the magnetic allure is complete. The album continues with the delicate blend of African, Arabic and Western influences, all constructed around Mursal’s songs and delivery thereof. Here is a case, in a world music context, where crossover and production aren’t dirty words at all.

A singer from Mogid, Mursal fled her troubled, war-wracked homeland with her children, found her way to Denmark, and finally, to Peter Gabriel land, the realm of the RealWorld operation. She was heard on last year’s RealWorld album by the Waaberi, a large Somalian group fractured by the war. Besides being a rhythmic force to reckon with, The Journey chronicles her exile and also reflects back on longing for home, in songs like “Somalia, Don’t Shame Yourself” and “Refugee.” This music, though strong and driving, offers a sense of an artist’s being rootless and wistful. The beauty hangs in the balance.

Originally Published