“Queen of the Qanun” Maya Youssef’s Swansea Valley Date

Hailed as ‘The queen of the qanun’, Maya Youssef is a globally renowned and award-winning qanun player and composer from Syria.

Born in Damascus, as a result of the war in her home country Maya arrived in the UK in 2012 under the UK Government’s Tier 1 visa scheme, endorsed by Arts Council England as an Exceptional Talent.

Since then, Maya has pushed the boundaries of the qanun (a 78 stringed plucked zither traditionally played by men) and has performed at the South Bank, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, The Barbican, Shakespeare’s Globe and WOMAD Festival, and around the world.

Now, on her only date in Wales, Maya visits the Welfare in Ystradgynlais on Thursday 22nd. A celebration of Syrian culture, this special performance reflects Ystradgynlais’s reputation as a centre of sanctuary for those seeking refuge. Having famously become home to artist Joseff Herman, the Swansea Valley town is now home to a number of Syrian families who have fled the conflict in their homeland.

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. 

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.

Tickets from just £10 are available via the Welfare Box office on 01639 843163 or website www.thewelfare.co.uk

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