‘People can be lost in a trance’: Eight-time ARIA winner Joseph Tawadros kicks off NGV Friday Nights this weekend

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‘People can be lost in a trance’: Eight-time ARIA winner Joseph Tawadros kicks off NGV Friday Nights this weekend

Joseph Tawadros by Daniel Sponiar
Words by Juliette Salom

Winter is warming up as the NGV Friday Nights series takes over from June 14, with performances in the Great Hall to celebrate the brand-new exhibition, Pharaoh.

Three Friday night performances under the stained-glass mosaic of the NGV’s Great Hall is no small undertaking, but for seasoned professional and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros, he’s nothing but excited to bring a different set to the stage for each of the next three weeks.

The eight-time ARIA Award winner is no stranger to a gig of grand size. Commanding the stage for the first few shows in the NGV’s Friday Nights series, to kick off the brand-new exhibition, Pharaoh, is no exception. Celebrating sounds from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, the series brings a colliding world of art and music right to the centre of the city.

Joseph Tawadros at NGV Friday Nights

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For Tawadros, being invited to open the season of NGV Friday Nights this winter with a three-week residency felt like a special honour. “I’m of Egyptian background, and these are my ancestors,” he says, referring to the exhibition. The Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition consists of 3,000 years of art and culture from ancient Egypt’s divine icons and invincible warriors through more than 500 objects.

Whilst attendees can be awed by the history of the art and objects that are situated throughout the exhibition in the after-hours access to the gallery that their NGV Friday Nights tickets grant them, they’ll also have access to the whole other sphere of art unfolding on the stage in the Great Hall. Tawadros points out that curating a set for the audiences moving throughout the gallery and noticing how they respond to the music is at the crux of his performances and how they evolve within the environment in which he plays.

“Environment is very important in music,” he says. “The audience [can be] the inspiration.” Tawadros’ musical style is significantly led by improvisation, so the energy that the audience and musician share provides the ingredients Tawadros is cooking up on stage. “I just let the inspiration take over and see if people can be lost in a trance in a way,” he says.

Joseph Tawadros, oud virtuoso


For those lucky enough to catch Tawadros at any of the three Friday Nights residency shows he’ll be playing – on June 14, June 21 and June 28 – there’ll be something different on offer for audiences each time. The three shows, Tawadros says, give him the flexibility to try something new each time, so that audiences “can come back the following weeks and hopefully get a different dose.”

Although Tawadros’ music is heavily influenced by traditional Arabic music, there’s no genre or style that is off-limits to this masterful musician. “I feel like I’m a bit of a sponge,” he says. Born in Cairo, Egypt and brought up in Australia, Tawadros’ heritage has connected him to traditional Egyptian sounds and introduced him to his instrument of choice, the oud. He says that having been exposed to different cultures through growing up in Australia has exposed him to the eclectic tastes of the melting pot of cultures and people that live here.

“[When] I started my journey, that’s where my interest in traditional Arabic music [began], it was a link to my heritage,” Tawadros says. “But then when I loved the oud a bit more and [developed] a bit more technique, I realised that all these other tastes that I’d been influenced by were coming through.”

Australia’s largest ancient Egyptian exhibition


Tawadros’ performances at the NGV will include pieces from his 2023 ARIA Award-winning album To Those Who Came Before Us, as well as sounds from his upcoming new album The Virtue of Signals. The beauty of performance for Tawadros, however, is all in the improvisational mode. “I approach it more kind of like a spiritual kind of trance,” he says. “It’s about creating a soulful experience.”

And not spiritual in a necessarily religious way, Tawadros specifies. “For me, spirituality is about creating good energy and about connectedness,” he says. “It’s actually a beautiful thing, the way that we communicate, and sometimes how we can communicate without words.”

Grab your tickets to see Joseph Tawadros at the NGV Friday Nights series here.

This article was made in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria.