Maya Youssef is the award-winning Syrian kanun (plucked zither) player who is bravely responding to the challenge of not being a passive witness to the ugly war taking place in her home country. She is prepared to give musical hope to the innocent refugee children caught up in this dirty conflict. Holding an unconditional offer to do a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), she wants to research an improved musical approach to working with traumatised displaced youngsters. But, she needs your support to raise the necessary funds to make her project a reality.
“What is happening to Syrian children today is unspeakable and the impact is on such a deep subconscious level. I am a mother and I can’t imagine the loss and pain they are going through at a time when they are supposed to play and be happy. I hope with something as connecting and powerful as music that layer by layer their wounds might heal.” (Maya Youssef)
Go Fund! Help Maya Youssef reach her target of £6,715 by 15 September, 2014.
Alongside being Director of the SOAS Middle Eastern Ensemble and teaching the kanun and ‘Theory of Music’, Youssef has already been working with a theatre production company in London - called ‘Oily Carts’ - that dedicates its work to children on the autistic spectrum and with complex disabilities, where she has seen positive results in unimaginable cases.
She said: “At one point, I co-composed and co-arranged a play titled ‘The Bounce’ to give a multi-sensory journey on the trampoline where the children bounce and interact with various friendly characters such as the mentors. There was a little girl of 11 years who came in with a carer to join in the game and as the cast, we were told that she doesn’t’ normally interact with nor respond to people.
“However, to our shock and horror, she unfolded and started giggling as I played the kanun to the rhythm of her bounce! This was the moment when the idea came to me - like a bell of truth - to bring this gift of music to Syrian children. I was in the middle of my Masters at SOAS then and looking into how ethnomusicologists - such as John Blacking - use academia as a reformative tool to make the world a better place and so I put in the PhD application.”
Youssef has also in the past three years been dedicating her musical talent and efforts to charitable fundraising events relating to parts of the MENA region, including at: ‘The Jasmine Ball’ to support UNESCO Syrian Children Appeal, at the ‘Gather for Gaza’ event at St Barnabas Church and the ‘Iraqi Orphan Charity’ at the Hilton Hotel, London. This is not to mention her success and achievements as a renowned Master of this most beautiful ancient stringed instrument at the international level.
Over a career that spans 21 years of playing the kanun, Youssef has performed at several international venues and taken part in worldwide festivals. Just in London, she has recently been at the Royal Albert Hall (twice as part of the Noor Festival of Arts and the BBC Proms), the Vortex, Southbank, Rich Mix and even performing at the Houses of Parliament.
Youssef’s goal for this PhD is to ultimately be able to build a creative cathartic centre in Syria dedicated to today’s refugee children. She said: “I envision this charity that I will call ‘Noor’ (light) to give children a safe and nourishing space to explore being unapologetically creative and release the trauma of war; whether it be in the form of regular workshops or Summer retreats at the refugee camps. It would involve music, dance, drawing and acting with the help of specialised mentors.
“During this war, I have discovered that music is what grounds me and brings me back to my authentic self. So I want to dedicate four years of my life to further learn about music therapy and polish my knowledge. I also believe it is time for academia to tackle issues directly related to humans’ lives and use its power to serve them. That is my mission! So please help me reach my target.”
For more information: