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Joseph Tawadros: Chameleons of the White Shadow
Joseph Tawadros is a name that some may recognise from the occasional gig around Cairo. The internationally acclaimed, award-winning oud player and composer was born in the Shubra district of the city, before he and his family relocated to Sydney, Australia. From the age of two, Tawadros' parents made a conscious effort to keep him and his siblings well versed in their Egyptian culture, always exposing them to Egyptian music and film; it was after Tawadros watched old Egyptian film about Sayed Darwish, that he decided to pick up the oud from a young age.
The combination of mastering a quintessentially Middle Eastern instrument and formally studying classical music quickly lead to Tawadros' distinct sound. Fostering the instrument in a Western environment also contributed vastly to his talent, evidenced by his precise execution of complex lines and clean picking at breathtaking tempos.
Having released one album a year since 2004, Tawadros' most recent venture is Chameleons of the White Shadow. The driving force of this record was to put the oud with instruments that have rarely - if ever - performed alongside it. The outcome boasts an all-star ensemble of some truly talented, accomplished recording artists and performers such as Bela Fleck (Banjo), Howard Johnson (Tuba), Roy Ayers (Vibraphone), Richard Bona (Bass), Joey De Francesco (Hammond Organ), Jean Louis Matinier (Accordion) and Joseph's younger brother, James Tawadros on percussion (req and bendir).
The album is a fantastic mesh of styles that subtly hints at Middle Eastern, Balkan, jazz and classical, without ever straying far enough to fall into a single classification. Every one of these artists brings a personal touch to the album without stifling or overshadowing each other.
Along with providing plenty of space for improvised solos, Tawadros composes music with enough flexibility to cater for the comfort zones of the guests on his album. Such a decision evidently yields the highest artistic results. In terms of its emotional content, the album plays on all the senses; at times it's witty and fun, sometimes it's casual, whilst occasionally it takes on a more serious tone.
There are too many great moments on this album to be listed. For instance, the second track on the album, 'Gypo Blues', is carried by Joey De Francesco's signature style and features playful solos by both himself and Howard Johnson. In similar fashion, 'Freo' opens with a funky bass before Roy Ayers launches into a jazzy solo. The track also includes elements of Americana music, giving Bela Fleck's banjo a real opportunity to shine, while 'Street in Sarajevo' evokes nostalgic scenes as a result of Jean Louis Matinier's meandering accordion. Throughout the album, Tawadros acts as an ambassador for his instrument, guiding it through unfamiliar territories with a refreshing sound.
Far from gimmicky, the successful musicianship and expert collaboration on Chameleons of the White Shadow has most certainly solidified Tawadros' status as a pioneer of the oud.
It is next to impossible to define the sound of the Dirty Projectors. As soon as one tries to put their finger on any sort of genre or sound, it will have already transformed itself - either sonically or lyrically – into something else entirely.
For David Longstreth, the songwriting genius behind
the Dirty Projectors, combining filthy lyrical imagery, Mariah Carey vocals, a
classical brass section, indie rock ethics, minimal techno, Wizard of Oz duets,
and hip-hop beats, is a seemingly effortless task.
Over the past decade, Longstreth has released over ten LPs and EPs, all which prove that his band is everything that Dave Matthews Band and the Magnetic Fields try to be – witty, daring, intelligent, honest, weird; in other words, different. Swing Lo Magellan, maintains that tradition, though in a somewhat more welcomed and accessible way.
However, Swing Lo is still bizarrely weird.
While for the first time the majority of songs are built around verse/chorus
song structures - and it feels as if Longstreth has tried to keep his
experimentation bound to structure - every song still sounds like a musical
experiment in itself.
The Dirty Projectors are a band of six who are more or less based in Brooklyn, New York. However, in ten years the band has easily gone through twenty members, and a rotating cast – Longstreth aside – simply seems to be part of the essence of this band.
It’s difficult to define what each band member specifically does because there’s no formula, and so individual roles often change with each song. There is a huge variety of sounds – clapping, duets, guitar riffs, eastern and western beats, digital effects – captured and produced using both hi-fi and lo-fi means. Dirty Projectors have collaborated with both Icelandic singer Björk, and new wave hero David Byrne of the Talking Heads, which hints at the diversity of their styles and tastes.
The off kilter, catchy pop track ‘About to Die,’
evokes a weird, sort of dyslexic Maroon 5-type groove, whilst Longstreth
lyrically ponders: “How can I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?
Foolish, I know, but I’m about to die”, that is, unless he’s “already dead”.
The opening track ‘Offspring are Blank,’ plays with the idea of species propagation, of fertile parents giving birth to blank children. However, it’s delivered over hip-hop beats, r&b vocals and pop-punk rock choruses.
There are also beautiful, guitar pop songs, such as title track ‘Swing Lo Magellan,’ which combines acoustic guitar, beautiful playful imagery, and a sense of wonder and adventure. But even with this simple song, the production sneakily bombards the listener with two tracks simultaneously. If listened to with headphones, one finds that that the right speaker is delivering an acoustic, beat-less ballad, and the left speaker is a bluesy, drum and bass groove; when combined, the magic is delivered.
However, just when one begins to grasp what this
album is all about, the punkish, dark, Pink Floyd-ish track ‘Maybe that was It’
comes as an exploration of what it would lyrically and sonically sound like to
come off LSD – confused and disoriented.
It is almost futile picking tracks off of this
record, as they’re all beautiful and unique in their own way. The current
single is ‘Gun Has No Trigger,’ but whatever the listener’s taste, there is
definitely something, somewhere on this record for everybody.
The name Swing Lo Magellan is a likely reference to renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s daring voyage under South America, where he ‘swang lo’, becoming the first person to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In a way, that is exactly what it sounds like Longstreth is doing with this album: creating groundbreaking connections where most believed they would and could never be made. Swing Lo Longstreth, Swing Lo.