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Maya Youssef 2.jpg

maya youssef

Speaker, composer and virtuoso of the qanun: disseminating peace through the healing power of music. 

One day when she was nine years old, Maya was on her way to the music institute in her hometown of Damascus. She was reluctantly studying the violin, but a beautiful sound was drifting through the air from a nearby taxi, and it stopped her in the tracks – it was the sound of the qanun. It blew her away, but the taxi driver laughed when Maya told him she was determined to play the instrument. “Girls don’t play qanun.” This was a man’s instrument played only by men. But not anymore.

Now based in the UK, Maya Youssef is hailed as ‘queen of the qanun,’ the 78-stringed Middle Eastern plucked zither. Maya’s intense and thoughtful music is rooted in the Arabic classical tradition but forges pathways into jazz, Western classical and Latin styles. It explores the emotional and healing qualities of music. For her, the act of playing music is the opposite of death and destruction; it is a life- and hope-affirming act and an antidote to what is happening, not only in Syria, but in the whole world.

Her debut album Syrian Dreams, produced by the legendary Joe Boyd, was highly-acclaimed in music press around the world and has led to many awards, performances on prestigious stages such as the BBC Proms and WOMAD and recognition from the British government of her status as an exceptional artistic talent. In perhaps her highest honour, the Year 6 class of Dalmain Primary School in London is named ‘Youssef’ in recognition of her inspirational work.

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