Fiddlin’ Around: An Exclusive Interview with Amanda Shaw

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With more than a decade and a half of experience as a songwriter already under her belt – and still only a few weeks shy of 22 – Amanda Shaw is no stranger to the spotlight. A constant ambassador for her beloved Crescent City, Shaw is a violin prodigy hoping to spread the spirit and rich musical history of New Orleans through her virtuoso playing, which has already taken her around the world.

This young fiddler will be bringing her fun-loving, Cajun-inspired sound to the festival’s Main Stage at noon on Saturday, Aug 11. In her exclusive interview with San Jose Jazz, I got the chance to find out how her fusion sound continues the Cajun music tradition and gained some insight on why NOLA natives love to spread the word about their hometown.

Your label head, Irvin Mayfield, had commented, “Cajun music is the foundation” for all of your work. What is it about that sound that connected with you so personally and at such a young age?

I think—just coming from here—Cajun music is a lot of fun. It’s a “dance’ type music. It’s history, and it’s culture. When you really look at it, it’s all based on people getting together and just having a good time. That’s what the music is completely about, and [I relate because] I’m a fun girl!

Why the choice to front a group? With your chops, you could’ve chosen a career as a session player, so why the choice to break out on your own and be a frontwoman?

I really love what I do. I love writing music. I love performing music. I’ve just grown up playing my own songs. I think it’s one of those things where it wasn’t pre thought-out or anything. I’ve just been so lucky that my life has always just kind of taken me from here to the next thing, you know? Things have just always kind of happened.

How long have you been performing originals? It sounds like it’s been a part of your life for quite some time.

I’ve been playing violin since I was 4 years old, and I started performing when I was 8, so I’ve been doing it for a while—I’m gonna be 22 in just a couple weeks. I remember being 5 years old, writing little songs in the back yard, singing songs with my dad. Even though that’s not serious stuff, you just start. If you enjoy something, then you just do it.

With 17 years of songwriting experience behind you, that transition to frontwoman probably wasn’t that tough for you. [Laughs]

[Laughs] No. I’ve just always enjoyed music and enjoyed playing, singing, writing and playing violin. I just love it.

Why choose to merge a roots sound with a more pop, mainstream sensibility?

I think what’s important about keeping the culture going and keeping the music going is that it always has to continue to grow and you have to be able to share it with people. It can’t always just stay as it is. For Cajun music, there was a time when people couldn’t speak Cajun French in school or anything like that, so there was a really big lull and the young kids didn’t want to play [Cajun music]. They weren’t proud of being Cajun. You have to be able to share with the up-and-coming generations that it is cool, that it is fun and that it is really exciting music.

I really like rocking out and I love the rock music that we do, [songs] like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash and stuff like that. I like that kind of music, and I think you have to continue to share [that] with both audiences – [with the younger generation and] also with the Cajun people, to show that Cajun music can grow and that it is something that can be popular, that people can like it and be proud of it.

Have you started work on your follow up to 2010’s Good Southern Girl?

I’ve been doing some of the collaborations. I’ve been meeting up with artists [like] Michael Franti and some really awesome producers and writers out in California. It’s really, really fun to be able to take my style, which is so unique and so fun, and be able to take it to other places where it’s not really done. I don’t think they have very many Cajun fiddle players out in LA.[Laughs] I’m really excited for the material that’s coming out of all of this and I can’t wait to record it and share it with everybody!

With you being such a fixture at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, what’s it like getting the chance to witness the festival dynamic in other cities across the country?

I love being able to share New Orleans and share Louisiana music with everybody. This past weekend, we were at the [California Worldfest] in Grass Valley, California, and we were one of the only Louisiana artists —  and one of the only ones from North America. It was awesome. There were all these bands from all over the world —  from China, Africa and things like that, and to be able to represent Louisiana is a really good feeling. When people are dancing and having fun, then it’s totally worth it. It’s a different place and it’s a different crowd but it’s always fun every single time.

You’ve been consistently mentioning how it feels to get the chance to share the spirit and culture of New Orleans. That seems to be a running theme with people from the Crescent City. What is it about the spirit of the city that makes people want to share New Orleans?

I think the best way to know is to visit and come see, because there’s nothing like actually coming down and just hanging out. Like Irma Thomas said once, New Orleans is one of those places that you could stop on any corner and ask for directions from anybody, and by that night, you’ll end up on their mama’s couch, eating their mama’s gumbo, laughing and having a good time! It’s just one of those places, and I think that’s a great way to put it. We have festivals for everything, and people always have a way of having a good time. We have music and we have food and all these different things, but most importantly, regardless of all of those things, we have an appreciation for getting together with family and friends, and, no matter what it is, just sitting around and enjoying the company and enjoying what it is that we have.

Planning to catch Amanda Shaw’s vibrant fiddle playing on the Main Stage Saturday? Find out who will be joining you by leaving a comment on our Facebook post!