Born in Damascus, Maya Youssef is a virtuoso performer on the qanun, the traditional Middle Eastern plucked zither. She moved to London under the Arts Council’s “exceptional talent” scheme, and has played at the Proms and alongside Damon Albarn. Here she demonstrates the range and power of her 78-stringed instrument on a “personal journey through the six years of war in Syria”. It’s an often exquisite, emotional set that constantly changes mood, from sorrow to hope, on compositions that range from the “prayer for peace” of the title track to the lengthy The Seven Gates of Damascus, in which she pays tribute to her battered homeland. Her music may be based on the scales and modes of the traditional Arabic maqam, but there are echoes of everything from jazz to flamenco here, and the backing is equally inventive, with thoughtful cello work from Barney Morse-Brown matched against incisive oud and hand percussion.
Maya Youssef: Syrian Dreams review – powerful homage twists Arabic music cliches