Maya Youssef

NCEM, York

9 June 2022

It feels like I've waited a long time for this. It's three years since I first discovered Maya, playing at the Sage, and since then I've seen her do a few online events, but this is the first time I've seen her live with a full band.

The band is: percussion, cello, double bass, piano, and of course Maya on qanun, and though the cello and bass (and maybe piano) are reading from sheet music, there are also a lot of what feel like improvised solos, making it feel more like a jazz band than a classical ensemble. They never actually play as a full band: they play in combinations as trios, or quartets, or whatever the piece of music needs. The only constant is the qanun. And the remarkable thing is how well the qanun sound blends with the western instruments. And how it never dominates the music: Maya gives her musicians plenty of space to make themselves heard.

Over more than two hours of music, the mood changes from joyous to heartbreaking, and everything in between. I see people in tears, and I see grey-haired men and women down the front headbanging like it's a rock concert. She plays jazz, she plays lullabies, she plays dances, she plays traditional Syrian tunes, she plays things that I don't know whether to call folk or classical. Most of it she has written herself, a few pieces are traditional but presumably her unique arrangements. She's an amazing composer as well as a breathtaking instrumentalist.

The playing from the supporting musicians is flawless, Maya's playing is super-human, but most importantly her music and her stories are full of genuine, heart-felt emotion.

Absolutely the best concert I have ever seen.