Born in Damascus, Maya Youssef is a virtuoso on the qanun, the magnificent Arabic zither that is at the heart of Arabic classical music. Now based in the UK, thanks to an Arts Council Exceptional Talent Scheme, she released her highly-praised debut album Syrian Dreams in November.
Accompanied by percussion and cello, she performs music lamenting the war in her homeland and celebrating its rich cultural and architectural heritage. Her instrument takes possession of her and ‘the music is sure to take possession of you,’ said our Songlines review.
Maya Youssef is from a progressive and intellectual Damascus family of writers and artists. She was the first musician in the family and her father had a huge collection of music from all over the world which she used to listen to: Arabic Classical, Jazz, Fusion, World, Tibetan monks, Western Classical… She started learning music aged seven at Sulhi al-Wadi institute of music in Damascus. When she was 12 she won the Best Musician Award in the National Music Competition for Youth. She continued at the High Institute of Music and Dramatic Arts in Damascus for a BA in Music specialising in qanun. At the same time, she did a BA in English Literature from the University of Damascus. She graduated from both in 2007 before moving to Dubai to perform and then to Oman in 2009 to teach and perform.