Joseph Tawadros: Chameleons of the White Shadow
Ahmed El Dahan
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.