Joseph Tawadros, 30, is an oud player of Egyptian origin who has lived in Australia since he was three. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Music from the University of New South Wales. In 2012, he won an ARIA for the Best World Music Album for the album ‘Concerto of The Greater Sea’. On his latest album, ‘The Hour of Separation’, he collaborated with legendary jazz musicians John Abercrombie, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette.
This is his third year at Jodhpur Riff. This year, he played with Daud Khan Sadozai (robab) and Dilshad Khan (sarangi). As we speak, Tawadros is also being roped in to perform at the ‘Riff Rustle’—an impromptu collaboration between a variety of foreign and Rajasthani musicians towards the end of the festival—by Cedric Leonardi of the Gypsy All Stars.
I want to ask you about your collaboration with Daud Khan Sadozai and Dilshad Khan. Had you met the other performers before?
The collaboration was centered around the Afghani Robab master Daud Khan (Sadozai). I actually met him at the airport in Delhi. So that was the first time I ever met him, by chance. But, musically it was just at the festival, for two days. And we sat together and we had to get something done. Divya (Bhatia, the Festival Director) has ideas of bringing people together, and what will work and I think it worked. It was great. We had a good time. The crowd was enthusiastic and I think that’s a good sign that it did work.
I spoke to Dilshad Khan (one of the collaborators) on the morning of your performance and he wasn’t sure he was playing in the evening.
Yeah, you know, everyone is so busy so it’s very hard to align our rehearsals. So Dilshad really just came on in the last minute. But with music most of it is improvisation and I think it wouldn’t work if people involved weren’t improvisers. The Rajasthani musicians, for instance, are such great improvisers that you can put them in any sort of context. It’s about people adapting to each other. I think that’s a great thing about the festival. You bring people together that can work together and that’s what happens consistently every year, which is great news.
What do you do when this happens? When you are joined by a performer in the last minute, you’re doing it on the spot and it’s a collaboration. What are the things you keep in mind, some things that you should or should not do?
For me, personally, I think it’s just listening, and I’m happy to follow. I think if everyone tries and wants to lead then it’s a problem. I’m happy to follow and try and keep some stability. Because I think it’s very hard. I think the catch is that there’s no real person leading it and saying, “Oh it’s your turn, it’s your turn.” So I just like to keep it as stable as I can. That’s basically my job, to follow, and I’m happy to follow. I get moments of soloing of course but you have to look at the greater good rather than your ego. It’s more important as a project, and what we’re trying to say, rather than someone shining. It’s the only way a collaboration works— if everyone works together.
Was it easier because of the specific theme of your collaboration? The music being from a similar space?
No, I think everybody on stage is a motile improviser. That said, we didn’t have a Jazz player who was playing a blues scale. Pretty much we come from cultures that share very similar music traditions. So it’s not like we had a Chinese musician on stage, you know what I mean? One playing a pentatonic scale and the other playing kirwani. No. We’re all playing the same scale and just listening to what everyone else is doing. But the musicians themselves were having fun. When musicians on stage yell praise to each other, it’s an enjoyable thing, rather than competition, which can happen too. But in this context, I think Divya picked the right people. I’m happy to be part of the stabilizing system of my collaboration. I’m part of the rhythm section. The rhythm section is very important in such things because if you’re not holding the rhythm then things fall apart.
In your collaborations outside of Jodhpur Riff, are you used to leading more?
I lead my own groups. That’s what I do. In fact I lead… in a way I lead some of it by looking at people and giving them solos and things like that. I talked about the structure… that is mine. Though I can’t take credit for it. Everyone has a role to play in a group otherwise too many cooks spoil the broth.
What did you talk about with Dilshad and Daud Khan Sadozai?
Just about what would be suitable. First of all, the tuning. I had to tune my oud down to be suitable to their instruments. It worked, because it gave my oud a different tonal quality, which is another thing. I’m happy with that. Very inspiring. We all inspired each other I think. The audience was getting right into it.
What’s been your takeaway from performing here over the last three years?
Well I think in (Jodhpur) Riff you are forced to play with other people, often forced to play with other people you’ve never met until an hour or two before going on stage. Sometimes— half an hour. It’s that sort of pressure that you have to put up with. You have to shine. It’s kind of like the pressure that makes diamonds. There is some magic and moments in the organized chaos. But it’s not really chaos. As I said, you’re getting musicians together that are used to that sort of thing. So it’s not a big deal. If you got a classical musician who has never improvised in his life with Rajasthani musicians an hour before then maybe you have a problem. But you know, you have an Egyptian, an Afghani and some Indians, you can’t go wrong… You can’t go wrong on that combo (laughs).
Also, every year, for the last three years, I have collaborated here with some Rajasthani musicians. So I’m getting used to it. I’m starting to get more accustomed to the sound. I’ve always been a fan of Indian music and Indian ragas. Also, being in an area, an environment, where the air is constantly filled with the music— it’s easier to adapt and pick up the nuances.
Is there any particular performance this year that struck you?
I’m not singling out anyone. There are always some magic moments. That’s a great thing. And it’s always nice to perform for his Highness (Gaj Singh II, the Maharaja of Jodhpur) as well. I would make a joke every time with him, off the stage. Yesterday he came up to me and I made a joke. I said, “Look I’ve played here three times. I should get a room.” He came up to me afterward and said, “You have a room to the stage,” which is quite a great respect. And every time I have played he has come up and shook my hand. It’s nice sharing that bond with such a nice guy.
Was there any other musical insight or realization from performing at the festival, from watching other performances, in terms of collaborating or just in terms of your own music?
For me personally every day is like that. I could be in the street and… I think Rajasthan in general, not just the festival but the environment itself, people on the street, the way people interact with each other— is inspiring. The way people live life here. Anything can spark a thought or idea and some inspiration. That’s the beautiful thing about being in this environment. Not just the festival, though the festival is a promotion of the city. So the great news is we get to spend time in the city. The festival is enhanced by the people and the people, hopefully, get something out of the festival. It works both ways.
(Image: Joseph Tawadros. By Kavi Bhansali / JodhpurRiff. )