From being the one of first professional female singers in Somalia to being the first female in Mogadishu to drive a taxi cab before seeking refuge in Denmark, Maryam Mursal’s life has been marked by struggle and trail-blazing when necessary for her passions and to simply ensure the survival of her family. In 1966, backing centuries of men-only tradition, the teenage Mursal became one of the first professional female vocalists of the Muslim faith. It wasn’t long before her mastery of the Islamic and African music native to her country won over her fellow Somalians, and Mursal’s own lively blend of music, Somali jazz, which she developed singing in nightclubs, became the sound of her homeland.
Through her career in Somalia, she performed solo and with Waaberi a 300-member music and dance troupe associated with the Somali National Theatre. A piece from Interview Magazine’s Ray Rogers in March 1998, describes her accomplishments in Somalia and exile to Denmark by way of Djibouti, “In 1986 Mursal sang a song called “Ulimada” (“The Professors”), a thinly veiled criticism of her country’s ruling dictator, which led to a ban of her music and another first: In order to feed her family, Mursal became Somalia’s first female taxi driver.
When the regime fell in 1991, Mursal once again became a shining star in her country. Soon, though, the intertribal fighting in Somalia escalated, sending her and her five children packing.
They spent seven months crossing the Horn of Africa by foot, bus, any means necessary, to safety. Mursal was eventually granted refugee status by Denmark, where she was discovered singing to a crowd of three hundred fellow refugees in 1992 by Soren Kjoer Jensen, now her producer and manager. He brought Mursal to the attention of Peter Gabriel, who decided to sign her to his Real World label in 1994.”
In July 1997 Real World released “New Dawn,” Maryam’s recording with the core survivors of the band Waaberi, once a 300-strong troupe of singers, dancers, musicians and actors from the Somalian National Theatre before the destruction of the civil war.
According to her page on the Real World website, one day Maryam hopes to return home to Somalia. “The first good thing I hear about my country, the first suggestion that it is changing, and I will go back – and quickly. It might take five years or even ten years but one day things will change. Everybody needs their country. At home you can be a star but then as a refugee you are looked at like a dog. I am a refugee but I am also a singer. That is my job and that is how I survive.”
You can see Maryam Mursal on two YouTube videos. The first opens in the middle of a performance of Cidlaan Dareemaya (I Feel Alone), contains an interview, and then closes with a performance of Heesteema.
The second video is a live performance in Djibouti. Although the sound is a bit rough, the performance is very good.
The final piece is an interview with Mursal from Freemuse.org explaining in an interview in Haderslev, Denmark, in 2006, her beliefs in music and the Quran. If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to add them. You can also contact me at mnworldbeat at gmail dot com.
Resources for Maryam Mursal
I am greatly in debted to a blog called “Confessions from a funky ghetto hjabi” for her piece on Maryam Mursal.
Maryam Mursal – Wikipedia Entry
Real World Label – Maryam Mursal’s Page
Waaberi – Wikipedia Entry
Minneapolis World Beat Past Post on Waaberi
Waaberi – Page on the Real World Website