Damascus-born Maya Youssef pays tribute to war-torn homeland with first album Syrian Dreams

Qanum player, Maya Youssef, is launching her first album in London

Syrian musician Maya Youssef has released her first album, Syrian Dreams, a retelling of the civil war that ripped her homeland apart. YouTube/ Maya Youssef

Damascus-born musician Maya Youssef is set to launch her first album in London on Monday, re-telling her own personal journey as an exile through the war that has torn her home country apart.

Instrumental album Syrian Dreams is a translation of Ms Youssef’s memories of home, as well as a “prayer for peace”, told through the qanun, a traditional Syrian 78 stringed plucked zither.

The launch, which takes place in London, is the first opportunity fans will have to hear the album, which was released last week, live.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Ms Youssef explained how the plight of children in the Syrian Civil War led her to start writing music.


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“I was watching the news one day and saw a report from Syria on how a girl my son’s age died in her living room,” she said. “I began crying and held my qanun and a piece of music came out of me — I did not understand at the time that I was writing music but that piece became Syrian Dreams. I’d never written music before the war. That was how the album started.

“I want it to be a prayer for peace. I was really, really low. You either do something or you perish.”

Ms Youssef, 33, began her career in music at the age of just seven when she started learning violin. She later switched to the qanun two years later, eventually majoring in music at Damascus University.

It was in Dubai that the talented musician honed her skills on the instrument and developed her own personal style.  In 2009, she was invited to Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University in the Department of Music and Musicology, which is where she was when the Syrian Civil War broke out.

Ms Youssef now lives in London, having moved to the city under Arts Council England’s “Exceptional Talent Scheme”. Alongside her solo career, Ms Youssef plays with Damon Albarn’s Syrian refugee orchestra and lectures at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Maya Youssef is playing at Rich Mix, London, on November 20