Maya Youssef plays the qanun in a unique and innovative manner. Apart from being a brilliant scrabble word the qanun is a 78 stringed plucked zither. Qanun translates as “the law” and is often used to set the pitch of a musical group.
Aged 9 Maya first heard the qanun in a taxi and was told by the taxi driver that it was a man’s instrument. She has proved that driver wrong, having played at the Proms and alongside Damon Albarn.
From an intellectual and progressive family in Damascus, the Arts Council’s exceptional talent scheme enabled her to migrate to the UK in 2012. Maya is teaching the qanun and directing the SOAS Middle Eastern Ensemble at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where she is also researching Music Healing for Syrian Refugee Children as her PhD project.
Maya’s father has a large collection of music from all over the world but she is the first in her family to be a musician. Maya says that the album Syrian Dreams is her personal journey through the 6 years of war in Syria. A translation of her memories of home and her feelings into music. She sees the act of playing music as the opposite of death; as a life and hope-affirming act. On a hot summer’s afternoon in London in 2012 Maya was watching the news. She felt overwhelmed, as if she was going to explode, so she held her qanun and Syrian Dreams came out of her. The first piece of music that she wrote.
I have the album in my radio library and have played the Rest of the World Show out with a couple of tracks so far. Expect more in the future. I’m particularly fond of Queen of the Night. It starts plaintively and morphs into something much more jazzy in the middle and end sections which are bound together with more plaintiveness.
2. Bombs Turn Into Roses
5. Queen of the Night
6. Syrian Dreams
7. The Seven Gates of Damascus
9. The Sea
Released: 24 Nov. 2017
Label: Harmonia Mundi
The album reached No. 8 in the Transglobal World Music Chart in February 2018. Maya is playing at the Norwich and Norfolk Festival on 24 May and I already have my ticket.
Coca Tenorio is a singer/songwriter who has adopted the Highlands of Scotland as her home. She grew up in the remote coastal villages of Esmeraldas: a region of Ecuador known for it’s strong Afro-Ecuadorian culture & musical heritage. In 1999 Coca moved with her children to the Highlands of Scotland and continued to perform as a singer while working as a fashion designer. In 2009 she self-released her debut album Todo Transito, which was well received.
Cold Like Stones, her new album, was released yesterday 29 June 2017 and is a collection of twelve soulful songs composed by Coca; some English, some Spanish and one a mix of the two. Songs of yearning and sorrow, set to colourful Afro-Latin rhythms with elements of jazz, folk and rock. Her voice reminds me of Celia Cruz the Queen of Salsa.
On the album, Coca is accompanied by musicians from Scotland, Ecuador, Cuba and Colombia. It was recorded in Scotland and Ecuador. Mixed and mastered by Nick Turner at Watercolour Studios. It’s a good solid album with no weak tracks. Il Testigo stands out as the track with the most feeling and the strong lyrics add to the dramatic effect. I love the Andean influence in this one and I shall be playing this on next week’s show.
Other stand out tracks are the dreamy Estrella Fugaz that has some nice guitar work, Maria Va where one can hear the range of Coca’s voice and the bilingual Nobody Knows with its bluesy guitar that spills over into the next track Game of Love.
Cold Like Stones is available from http://www.cocatenorio.com and major online outlets.
This album is more than just a reworking of Totó La Momposina’s 1993 album La Candela Viva, it is an amazing project that has its roots in a house track called La Mezcla that was released by Swiss producer Michel Cleis in 2009. La Mezcla contained two samples from La Candela Viva. Cleis’s record company requested access to the original tracks and producer John Hollis, Totó’s son-in-law located the original tapes. From there, over the intervening years, a plan was formulated to rework the tapes. The tapes were baked to remove moisture and digitized so that modern Technology could be used to produce Tambolero.
The album represents three musical styles: Sextetos, Tambores and Gaitas. With its origins in Africa brought to the Caribbean with the slaves, Spain with the conquistadors and also from the indigenous population of Colombia. Listening to both albums this morning it is fascinating to listen to how, in Tambolero, they have enhanced the warm sound of the tambores; the drums of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, played in 1993 by Batata who was at the time in his seventies. These drums inspired the name of the new album.
Other additions to the original sound are a chorus consisting of Totó’s granddaughters Oriana Melissa Hollis and Maria del Mar Hollis and double bass has been added to the sexteto songs: Chi Chi Mani, La Sombra Negra and Malangra by Nestor Vanegas who is the band’s bass player these days.
I see from the sleeve notes one local connection: in the mid 90s Totó and her family moved from Madrid to Paris and then to London and decided to base themselves in England to develop their work. They lived for a while in Sudbury, Suffolk and then moved to Bath.
I have spent a pleasant Boxing Day morning listening to both albums with the sun pouring in my front window and the sun pouring out of my speakers.
David, 2015 December 26
Biography: Totó La Momposina