WHETHER you are a fan of the oud or wouldn't know one if you fell over it, Australia's leading exponent in mastering its strains is Joseph Tawadros and he is on his way to the Saraton Theatre this Sunday to demonstrate why he is rated among the world's best exponents of the instrument.
A three-time ARIA winner, Tawadros has played alongside artists like Neil Finn and Katie Noonan.
He has also performed extensively in Australia and in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East at festivals such as WOMAD, Sarajevo Jazz Festival, Inntone Jazz Festival (Austria), The Bimhuis and Music Meeting (Netherlands).
His most recent performances include tours with The Song Company, the Sydney, West Australian and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Rajasthan International Folk Festival and European tours with French accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier.
He completed his latest tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra on Monday and said he is looking forward to now bringing his trio to some smaller regional venues.
"It is a real blessing and privilege to be able to do all of this," the Cairo born musician said.
"When I was growing up learning the oud I never thought this would be option but I enjoyed playing it and luckily the avenues just started to open up for me."
Those avenues include collaborating with some of the world's finest musicians across many genres including tabla master Zakir Hussain, sarangi master Sultan Khan, John Abercrombie, Bela Fleck, Camerata Salzburg, Ivry Gitlis, Christian Lindberg and the Grigoryan brothers.
It is a real blessing and privilege to be able to do all of this.
Tawadros's willingness to push boundaries and challenge traditional musical forms and rhythms, means he has helped redefine the oud and its place in mainstream music.
"When I play it's more about inviting the audience along with me so we get lost in the music finding emotion within each piece rather than relating back to the genre or technical part of the playing," he said.
Tawadros, who moved to Australia when he was three, said the oud, which is a Middle Eastern instrument, has a warm bassy guitar sound but has a fretless finger board that you pluck and slide like a normal guitar.
"It will be amplified but it still has a soft tone which I balance with the accompanying percussion and piano," he said.
Joining Tawadros on stage this weekend will be brother James on percussion and friend Matt McMahon on the keys.
"We are a tight-knit group and enjoy performing and having a good time on stage together," Tawadros said.
"That's the idea really, to do that and share music on stage with an audience.
"I like to have a bit of a banter in between each piece.
"We take the music very seriously but also like to free it up a little for the audience and make sure they are connecting with us."
And while the oud may sound unusual, Tawadros said he got over any teasing from playing a weird instrument when he was growing up.
"I'd always loved the instrument and figured I was doing the right thing with it," he said.
"It didn't bother me and after a while I saw people's reactions when I played it and I never really got that."
Tawadros's new album is set to be released in April and he is also up for a fourth ARIA this year but isn't holding his breath.
"It's always nice to get an ARIA but it's great to just be able to create music and have it out there. If your peers acknowledge it that's just a bonus," he said.
The credentials continue
The youngest recipient of the esteemed Freedman Fellowship for Classical Music, Joseph Tawadros has won five ABC Limelight Awards and recorded 11 ARIA-nominated albums to date, with the three most recent winning 'Best World Music Album' at the Australian Recording Industry Awards (ARIAs). Chameleons of the White Shadow, the result of his 2013 collaboration with world-renowned artists Bela Fleck, Richard Bona and Roy Ayers, received a five-star review in The Australian as "a musical dialogue of the highest order ... consummate musicianship". The preceding disc, The Hour of Separation, recorded with US guitar legend John Abercrombie earned rave reviews from jazz, classical and world music reviewers both here and abroad.
As a composer, Joseph has written for film (documentaries The last days of Yasser Arafat, Haneen, I Remember 1948), for theatre (The Gates of Egypt) and for animations by artist Michael Roseth. His music has also featured in television series Paper Giants, East West 101, and Australian feature film The Last Ride.