The Qanun: The Fingers Behind the Instrument

November 5, 2023

When our co-founder Olajide Paris first came to Armenia to record the Qanun in 2018, he met Mayranush Rubanyan, a skilled young player who was excited at the opportunity. From that first moment in 2018 to the present, Mayranush and Olajide recorded several projects together, utilizing her incredible skills with the unique instrument. The plucked tones of this kind of Middle Eastern zither are hauntingly beautiful, transporting listeners to mesmerizing worlds. With the different kinds of Qanun, players make a beautiful tapestry that makes people feel both spiritual and sensual. Mayranush is skilled at creating both kinds of moods.


Mayranush and Olajide have a lot of successful credits in their collaboration, not only this latest Kontakt instrument we released. And it has no doubt been an excellent breakthrough for Mayranush—most musicians in Armenia don’t get international exposure or the advantages that such employment brings. Though 2018 was certainly a turning point for Mayranush, she has a much longer history with the Qanun and music altogether.


Discovering the Qanun

Mayranush has been playing for 17 years and is a veritable master of the trade now. Mayranush was a just an infant when she was first exposed to the instrument and grew up with it like a sibling competing for her mother’s attention. Her mother, the famous player Amalya Aharonyan, would spend many hours in front of her daughter in practice. Mayranush gets sparkles in her eyes when she thinks about those early years and seeing her mother perform in front of an audience.

Mayranush playing the Qanun
Mayranush playing the Qanun


“I saw her play and I fell in love with the instrument,” Mayranush says. “I have a very intimate relationship with the Qanun now. I’ve grown very close to it and can’t imagine my life without it. The Qanun soothes me.”


She started playing Qanun herself when she was 6. As she grew older, she kept up her love for the instrument, though she did branch out to others, like the piano. But Qanun always remained her true love. She went on to study music at college and is now getting her graduate degree at Yerevan State Conservatory. She plays regular performances and teaches at the music school in the town of Ashtarak, which borders her native village. And she has worked on many more projects with Olajide. It was due to all her hard work—practicing and promoting the instrument—that Olajide discovered her.


Passion for music

At the Conservatory, Mayranush studies under the esteemed professor and player Tsovinar Hovhannisyan, whom we also got to speak with. “Mayranush came to me with a strong background, not least because she was tutored by her mother, Amalya Aharonyan, a famous Qanun player herself,” Tsovinar tells us. “Mayranush is not only a wonderful Qanun player but also a wonderful person. I often tell her off for putting the well-being of her fellow human beings above her own. Still, I love her very much.”

Mayranush playing Qanun in the studio
Playing in the studio


Mayranush is enamored with both the delicate and harsh tones that are possible from the Qanun. It can sometimes model the sharp plucks of a harpsichord or the gentle pulls of a harp. Her favorite piece to play is Tsovinar’s “Improvisation”. “It’s very close to my heart,” Mayranush says about her professor’s work. “No matter how tired or stressed I am, no matter my emotional state, it feeds me spiritually.”


The Qanun produces a rich, resonant tone that’s both soothing and invigorating and is often featured as the virtuoso instrument in orchestras across the Middle East and Central Asia. Players throughout the region admires Armenian women’s virtuoso playing styles like Mayranush’s. Tsovinar adds: “Arab and Turkish performers frequently reach out to me for advice on how to better instruct their students in the art of the Qanun upon hearing the quality of performance of Armenian Qanun virtuosos.”


Women players

Up until recently, only men performed the Qanun, which is a persistent trend throughout the Middle East. Armenia, though, went its own way, following a unique chain of history stemming from the famous Armenian performer Anjela Atabekyan, who taught at the Yerevan State Conservatory. Anjela gained her fame during Soviet times and introduced the instrument to women in Armenia. It’s picked up in popularity so much that now many in the country consider it a “women’s instrument”. “Anjela pried the Qanun away from the hands of male performers,” Tsovinar said.

Young woman with Qanun
Mayranush with her Qanun in the studio

Check out Folk Noir: Qanun today!

Mayranush’s journey with the Qanun is a testament to her unwavering passion and dedication to the instrument. And with every pluck and strike in our sampled version, you can hear her love for it shine through. Olajide is proud of every project he’s worked on with Mayranush, and especially proud of the Folk Noir: Qanun. Mayranush spent hours in the studio, recording every intricacy of the instrument, and now we have an amazing product that will shine through your projects.


Check it out now:Folk Noir Qanun cover