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Discovering Maya

Someone on the radio was plucking a multi stringed instrument, making very beautiful, soulful and ponderous sounds. This was a qanun and the music was “The Sea” – part of the album “Syrian Dreams” –  performed by Maya Youssef (qanun), Sebastian Flaig (percussion) and Barney Morse-Brown (cello).

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We were thrilled by the qanun playing on this track and thrilled again when we heard the album on Spotify so we bought it. What a wow of qanun, cello, oud and percussion instruments (doholla, bells, riq, frame drums, tamburiq, cymbal, and pitched udu). And the awesome percussionist Sebastian Flaig created an astonishing complexity of sounds to weave around and support the qanun – amazing. And Maya’s music? This ...‘is rooted in the Arabic classical tradition but forges pathways into jazz, Western classical and Latin styles.’


“Syrian Dreams” has poignant music – it has happy music – it’s all very moving – we love it. And the track names are intriguing in themselves for example: 

“Hi-Jazz”  “Bombs turn into roses” “The seven gates of Damascus”


Finding Maya Youssef is a very exciting discovery for us – all thanks to BBC Radio 3, who played the track “The Sea” during “Essential Classics“ on 29 December last year.


Our story didn’t end when we found Maya’s “Syrian Dreams” ­– it could well have done ­– but just a  few weeks ago we made another discovery. It turns out that Maya has a connection with St John’s College because of her live stream solo concert hosted by "The World’s Music at Oxford." This is great news for Oxford Tabla and we now know that Maya has collaborated with tabla players including Sanju Sahai… so of course we just had to seek out the video and when we tracked it down there was so much to enjoy. Maya’s energy and enthusiasm were boundless throughout. We admired her virtuosity and enjoyed her music. And then there were the stories – Maya is such a good storyteller.  

The video link to Maya Youssef’s online concert is on our 2020 news and events page – please click:

One more thing, during the live stream Maya spoke of her start with qanun. This is what she said:-


‘I started playing qanun when I was about eight. So… and there is a story behind it. I was in a back seat of a taxi and I was with my mother heading towards the music institute and the taxi driver was playing a recording of this (Maya points) beautiful instrument called qanun… and… I was… in love. The eight-year-old Maya said: “What is this? I’m gonna play this instrument."

And the taxi driver laughed. He said: “This is an instrument for men. You’re a girl. Forget about it. It’ll never happen.” And I told him: “Yes, it will.” And my mother didn’t really give much weight to the conversation but that very night the head of the institute walks in to our music theory… class and announces the opening of a qanun class and I ran and I was at the top of the queue and I signed up, for… this (Maya points lovingly at her qanun).’

Caroline and Neil

February 2022

April 2022 Update: We went to a concert in a very beautiful venue on 2 April. Where did we go and who did we see? Click the link:

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