Watch: Maya Youssef and her qanun | Songlines
Saturday, April 21, 2018

Watch: Maya Youssef and her qanun

By Charlotte Algar

Syrian musician Maya Youssef's mastery over her 78-stringed qanun is a sight to behold, especially in this rendition of 'Touta'.

Maya Youssef-©Sarah Ginn:Royal Albert Hall-Free copy.jpg

Maya Youssef, who has adored the qanun since the age of nine and is hailed as ‘Queen of the Qanun,’ is a musical treasure to Damascus, her birthplace, and London, her new home. Youssef is an activist and speaker, and her album Syrian Dreams musically embodies her reaction to the war in Syria and unrest in other parts of the world. 

With 78 strings stretched across an ornate sound-box, the qanun is a closely related to the zither, psaltery and dulcimer, and is thought to descend from the ancient Egyptian harp. The qanun is able to produce quarter tones, due to complex system of levers. This means that each note can be split into four smaller divisions, more than the comparatively simple Western system of semitones. Flexible plectrums worn on the ends of the forefingers are used to pluck the strings. Youssef’s qanun was crafted especially for her, with stable tuning to withstand changeable British weather and frequent international trips. You can find out more about her instrument in #137, where she discusses her unique instrument with Simon Broughton

‘Touta’ is a traditional Syrian tune composed by Farid al-Atrash and arranged here by Maya Youssef. She performs with Ant Romero on riq (tambourine), Barney Morse on cello and Rihab Azar on oud.

Youssef’s most recent album Syrian Dreams was a Top of the World in issue #134 and she will perform at the Songlines Encounters Festival 2018. 

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