Somali star Maryam Mursal to attend Midnimo residency in USA

Legendary UK-based Somali singer, Maryam Mursal, will arrive in Minneapolis in the USA for the fifth Midnimo residency on 1 November. The 10-day residency will include public discussions, workshops, community events, and a grand finale performance at The Cedar on November 14.

Somali artist Maryam Mursal. Photo: www.expose.org
Somali artist Maryam Mursal. Photo: www.expose.org

Midnimo is a program of The Cedar and Augsburg College that builds knowledge and understanding of Somali Muslim culture through music. Midnimo consists of week-long residencies with Somali artists from around the world that include public concert performances, workshops, and activities in the classroom and the community for Somali and non-Somali audiences.

The story of Maryam Mursal is both tragic and inspiring, the tale of a strong and determined woman whose music reflects her life, a powerful and dramatic mix of sorrow and joy. Mursal’s musical journey began as a teenager in 1966 when she broke the Somali tradition and began singing professionally in Mogadishu. She performed in nightclubs and her brand of music, featuring a mix of blues, soul, Somali and Arabic influences, and known as Somali jazz, became popular across the country.

Performing primarily solo, she also collaborated with Waaberi, a 300-member music and dance troupe associated with the Somali National Theatre. Later, after having criticized Somalia's then ruling military government, she was banned from singing for two years, and made her living driving a taxi. Her repertoire still includes the traditional Somalian songs she grew up with, a remarkable hybrid sound of African and Arabic influences created by centuries of cross-cultural fertilization between migrating nomadic tribes.

In 1991, having spent seven months walking across the Horn of Africa with her five children to flee the civil war in her home country of Somalia, Maryam finally found refuge in Denmark. Once established in her new home, Maryam began to think about rebuilding her singing career. She met up with the Danish arranger Soren Kjaer Jensen. He had come across Maryam's music when working in Somalia as a freelance photographer in 1986 and had even recorded her extraordinary voice from a radio broadcast.

Jensen heard Maryam singing at a Somalian immigrant camp to 300 fellow refugees and realised it was the same voice. He recorded her singing some traditional songs and brought Maryam to the attention of Peter Gabriel's Real World. Suitably impressed, the label asked her to work on two albums, New Dawn, recorded with members of Waaberi now resident in London which was released in the summer 1997, and a solo album The Journey that was released in early 1998.

Maryam played her first dates in the UK in the summer of 1997, including an appearance at the Womad festival in Reading where the organizers were forced to lay on a hastily arranged second performance to satisfy the demand. Maryam Mursal's life and art have intertwined to produce a sound that is both profoundly moving and totally unique.

 

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