Joseph Tawadros AM, is a multi-award winning virtuoso player of the Oud, a Middle Eastern lute and composer.
Joseph’s music has brought middle-eastern, classical and contemporary jazz together seamlessly and he is considered by peers and music critics to be a truly original performer and an innovative composer.
On stage Joseph is more than just a brilliant musician: He is an engaging and articulate story-teller with a sharp line in dry humour and astute observations.
Joseph, 34, was born in Cairo and grew up in Sydney. He was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) in 2016 for significant service to music. He is currently based in London.
Joseph has recorded 14 albums of original music, with 14 ARIA nominations and 4 ARIA Awards. His new album The Bluebird, the Mystic & the Fool is out in May 2018.
He has recorded and toured with several jazz guitar legends including the late John Abercrombie, Christian McBride, Mike Stern, Bela Fleck and Jack DeJohnette.
Joseph performs as a soloist, with his jazz group and orchestras. In the last year this included BBC Symphony Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Ukrainian National Orchestra.
He premiered his Concerto for Oud and Orchestra with Melbourne Symphony in 2017 and will perform at the BBC Proms, London in July 2018.
The Street talked with Joseph in Australia before the launch of his new album, The Bluebird, The Mystic and The Fool and concert with his trio in Canberra on the 18th of May.
HOW HAS YOUR CULTURAL HERITAGE INFORMED YOUR CREATIVE LIFE INCLUDING COMPOSING AND PERFORMING?
I’ve always seen the Oud as a link to my cultural heritage and each time I pick up the instrument it carries behind it a wealth of cultural history and my personal journey with it. My music is based on the Arabic Maqam System (system and group of modes), which I use to compose and improvise on. For me it’s how those modes work with certain emotions to connect with people that aren’t necessarily from a Middle Eastern background, through the emotions these modes possess. That for me is the craft.
YOU HAVE INTRODUCED THE OUD TO NEW AUDIENCES WORLDWIDE, DAZZLING THEM AND DEMONSTRATED THAT IT IS MORE THAN A FOLKLORIC INSTRUMENT. WHAT CONCERTS STAND OUT FOR YOU?
Every concert I play is special in its own way no matter how small but last year’s performance at the Dubai Opera House with the BBC Symphony is definitely up there. Just to have an Orchestra of that calibre and notoriety performing my music to a full hall is something quite special. My first concert series with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra when I was 22 performing my compositions was also memorable and our collaborative relationship is still strong all these years later. Performing for Coptic Pope Shenouda III and the Dalai Lama in a solo capacity has also made me feel that I’ve been able to help building bridges. I would say there are a few to name but I’m also very proud of my collaborations with international jazz legends John Abercrombie, Bela Fleck, Roy Ayers, Jack DeJohnette, Mike Stern, Joey DeFrancesco, Richard Bona, Christian McBride and John Patitucci.
YOU HAVE PLAYED A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN CROSS-CULTURAL COLLABORATIONS IN THE WORLD OF MUSIC. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO COLLABORATION WITH OTHER ARTISTS?
In anything not just music, it’s about the appropriate people for the job, sensitivity, communication and understanding all play a role. It’s about picking a team that understands their role and the mutual respect that is needed to serve the vision. My compositions are a map for my fellow collaborators, we all have to see the destination and contribute together accordingly to get us and the audience there safely. I compose to players’ strengths, letting them shine through what they know and challenging them through what they know. If you compose in that manner, then the musicians will be comfortable and that’s when they are free to create something special. I see a band leader as a CEO of a company or a project manager, some will run the company into the ground through ego, or some will understand who does what best and inspires them through what is available. It’s the belief and respect of the fellow musician that allows them to create magic and share in it together.
THE BLUEBIRD, THE MYSTIC & THE FOOL IS BEING LAUNCHED AT THE STREET WITH YOUR TRIO. WHAT IS THE IDEA BEHIND THE NEW ALBUM?
Well, I believe that all humans possess this trinity. Sometime we can be wise and mystical, and surprise ourselves through daily epiphanies. Sometimes we can be foolish, stupid and be our own enemy through ignorance or obsession. And the Bluebird has a more dubious meaning based on a Charles Bukowski of the same title. A short excerpt of it says ‘there’s a Bluebird in my heart that wants to get out, but I’m too tough for it…I let out at night sometimes when everyone is sleeping’. There are many meanings in the full poem and I do like how it can be interpreted in many ways. I’ll let the listener decide on which Bluebird they possess or oppress.
YOU AND YOUR BROTHER, PERCUSSIONIST JAMES TAWARDOS, HAVE COLLABORATED WITH PIANIST MATT MCMAHON FOR OVER A DECADE. YOUR CONCERTS TOGETHER HAVE BEEN DESCRIBED AS ELECTRIFYING AND ALWAYS ENTERTAINING. HOW DO YOU IMPROVISE AND PLAY OFF EACH OTHER?
My musical relationship with James stems back to when we were living as children in the family home and I believe that is when our telepathy began. There are truly some magical moments we’ve created and growing up playing music and living together has added to the connection we have on stage. Performing with Matt over the years and working on many different albums together has given us the understanding of how we work together through listening to each other. Matt is one of the finest Australian jazz pianists for a reason. His versatility and sensitivity to the moment is what separates him from other players. He has an expansive musical vocabulary and it is always exciting to hear how he adapts to the pieces and how we all react to each other.
YOUR CAREER HAS TAKEN YOU ACROSS CONTINENTS AND YOU ARE NOW BASED IN LONDON. WHAT HAS THE RELOCATION OPENED UP FOR YOU?
I love Australia and am a product of that great country. It possesses a wealth of people leading the way in many fields and have enjoyed my time there greatly. London is very similar but a much larger hub, especially due to the larger population. Due to this, there is a lot going on every night and it is great to go along and see how other people are undertaking their art here. My music is very much about people, and being here I’ve a lot of different and eclectic people that have inspired my music and given me a different view on life. I definitely miss the Aussie sun.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE.
I’ve been on the Australian music scene for a while now and I think the musical environment internationally has made some rapid changes which have affected artists greatly. What I’ve loved about the Oz music scene is that we are very individual and full of quality. Even though our population is small, we are great contributors to the rest of the world. I just really hope there are avenues for up and coming musicians to experience culture and have access to it so that we can keep leading the way.
YOU HAVE A LONG ASSOCIATION WITH CANBERRA. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT PERFORMING HERE?
I love people and I always have a warm reception in Canberra, where we have a strong following. The audience show me and my band a lot of love and we feel that. It is that feeling that makes us want to give more and more on stage and that’s why performing in Canberra is always special.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING MUSICIANS?
Use your ears, never give up, Keep persevering even if the odds are against you and use the word ‘NO’ to inspire rather than break you. It’s not an easy road and one must keep chugging along.
Even all these years on, there are many daily obstacles one must jump but if they really love music, are passionate and dedicated that might be enough. Music is a privilege and once you can move others then that is the true sign of success.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
This Australian tour promoting the new album, some performances with the Australian Chamber Orchestra here and in Japan. Some concerts in Europe, and a solo concert at the BBC Proms in London which I’m very much looking forward to.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
I’m really enjoying the streets of London and visiting various museums soaking up the art it has to offer. I’ve also taken up painting and it’s given me some time to relax and be in a zen like state while doing it. I would say it is influencing my music. The use of colour, shading and dynamics. I see many parallels between the visual and sonic world.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I’ve watching some of the TV show Curb your enthusiasm. I like comedy a lot and it’s an element I use on stage to connect with the audience as well. Larry David is one of the great comic writers and I find his style right up my alley so it’s been fun to watch.
I read a lot of poetry so I am constantly on the search. I’m not currently reading any book in particular except the daily news articles that come my way on social media, there seems to be conflicting opinions so I’m hoping my algorithm is changing 😂