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Amanda Shaw brings Cajun music to the mainstream

When Amanda Shaw takes the stage, the petite fiddler commands attention with a poignant and rhythmic sound that only a Louisiana prodigy could deliver. At 19, Amanda Shaw is a powerful performer, composer and arranger who has been touring nationally and internationally since she was 8 years old. She has recorded three critically acclaimed albums, won a Big Easy Award for best female entertainer and has even had two feature roles in Disney movies. The New Orleans native is a pioneer of the new breed of young, roots-based musicians who have embraced both the traditional sounds of Louisiana and the pop sounds of the mainstream. New Orleans Living was able to catch up with her while she was promoting her fourth and latest CD release, Good Southern Girl.

How were you introduced to music?

When I was 4, I was watching an orchestra on TV and saw a violin and turned to my mom and said, “That’s what I want to do.” I was particularly drawn to Cajun music because it’s based on fun, people, dancing and that’s totally me. When I was 8 years old, I started sitting in with other bands. I had to learn chord changes and different keys quickly due to sitting in with other musicians since I was classically trained and used to written music. Now what I do is roots rock music by taking our roots of Louisiana music and combining rock and pop elements to try to bring audiences together.

How is your newest record, Good Southern Girl, being received?

I am very pleased with how it’s being received. We were the number one–selling CD at Jazz Fest this year. The title track is a tune I wrote with Jim McCormick and Mark Adam Miller, and we were trying to come up with a punch line and at the end, it’s a really happy song about having a good time. To me it sounded like it was about being a good Southern girl and having a sweet Southern life, and it jumped out at me. The tune is about being proud of being a Louisiana girl and doing what we do best, which is having a good time. There’s a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, a Sam Cooke song, an Ingrid Lucia song—Ingrid was more than happy to let us do her song—a Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Co. tune and a Jefferson Starship tune. I am so proud of the work that everyone did. It was a group effort, and I am so excited to go on the road and share it with people.

Who inspires you?

I have learned something from everyone in our musical community here who took me in, and I continue to learn as I work with people in the Louisiana region. I love music and what I love about New Orleans is that we can be competitive in our music community and yet be friends and work with each other and help each other out. This is one of the only places that I have ever been where it’s like that. You see musicians popping in on their off days with each other to support each other. It’s lovely.

What is it like going on tour?

I enjoy bringing that very special thing that we have here to other people. I love my Cute Guys; we travel so well and we’re the best of friends, and we are playing our music and having a good time, just having fun.

Do you see a correlation between Cajun and Celtic music?

At the roots, all music is related, but of course you hear it in the fiddle lines, and you hear Cajun music with similar Celtic riffs. Although Cajun music is French, coming from exiled Canadians coming down here to the Lafayette area. They spoke Cajun French, not French, and they only had each other then, so they had to really develop together, and they played their music together, which is how the fais-do-dos started. They believed in working hard, and then on the weekends they really cut up and let loose. Every week a different family would host a fais-do-do in their barn with kids sleeping in the corners on blankets.

What are your thoughts about music recording quality moving from vinyl to CD to digital?

I personally like more old-school ways of doing things. Trina Shoemaker, who produced for Sheryl Crow and produced Good Southern Girl, only mixes analog. She has a great ear, and she also does not believe in autotune, and it’s really about capturing the moment for her and us in the studio to get the real energy captured. She is cool and we worked at the Music Shed. Her ability to capture vocals is very unique. Her work is very detailed, and it worked out great.

With whom would you most like to perform?

I love Chrissie Hynde, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn—pretty much anything that’s girl power, I love it.