Story by Claudia Vallejo. Photography Thomas Hunt
Click aqui para español- > Amanda Shaw
If you are from Louisiana, you have listened to American singer Amanda Shaw playing her fiddle to the sounds and beats of Cajun music. Perhaps little is known that Amanda Christian Amaya-Shaw is of Hispanic descent. Her grandfather and grandmother are both from Guatemala. “My mom is from Guatemala as well.”
Amanda’s childhood memories are filled by the sweet smell of her grandmother’s cooking, the different types of music blasting from the radio, the loudest screams of “goal” coming from the tv during a soccer world cup match, and a strong sense of family.
Amanda can easily talk about the French Acadian culture, but can also instinctively explain how to make a traditional dish from the Mayans’ land: “Steam the green beans, take some eggs, leave the yellow out, beat the white until it is nice and fluffy like a merengue, put some of the yellows back, and fry the green beans with the eggs’ mixture to form almost a patty.” Have you also heard “Chirmolito,” one of Amanda Shaw’s songs? She knows how to prepare the Guatemalan chirmol sauce too. “I grew up with a lot of the Latin-American food. I am pretty sure that black beans were about 75% of my diet when I was a kid. Black beans with rice, with tortillas, with eggs…lots of black beans, and I love it.”
It is not hard to understand why Amanda was attracted to Cajun music since she was a little girl. As she explains, “I identify with it because I grew up in a very Latina household. A lot of the songs in Cajun French music are about the Acadian people who came from Canada and settled in Louisiana. They were the only people speaking their language, living their culture at that time, so they banded together to celebrate their culture. They would work very hard during the week and on the weekends, the Cajun people would have their do-dos and dance, sing, laugh and enjoy their time together as a community. I identify with that growing up in Louisiana. I grew up in a house with a culture that also celebrates itself, the food, the music and who we are.”
Amanda is a 28-year-old musician with a long artistic career. When she fell in love with the violin at 4 years old, her mom took her to get lessons at Southeastern Louisiana University. At age 7, she had a solo with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and made the front page of the paper in Hammond. Her mom cut the newspaper out, mailed the clipping to the Rosie O’Donnell show, and within a year she was in New York City performing in this show. “It was amazing to be able to live this dream that I had. It was very lucky for me that my career started because I began to play festivals locally and around the state. Since then, I have been working on playing music.”
Amanda’s latest album, Please, Call Me Miss Shaw, was released in 2018. Her discography includes four more albums and several EPs. She also had a prominent role in the IMAX film “Hurricane on the Bayou,” and she has shared the stage with icons such as Carlos Santana and Steve Windwood. She tours nationally and internationally. She is in the lineup of the French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and other festivals across Louisiana every year.
Wearing a sparkling costume, Amanda Shaw dances on high heels up and down the stage playing the strings and singing Cajun with a blend of country, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. “I love putting on my make-up. I celebrate being a girl. I look at the positive things about being a young woman in the industry.”
Where does she get inspiration to write her songs? “I just kind of write what I feel comes from my heart, things that make me feel good, happy, and make me laugh. I like silly ideas, too. I have one song on my current record, “Dirty Blond,” that I wrote because I met this girl in the street, and I told her, ‘you have pretty blond hair.’ She said, ‘It is dirty blond.’ I thought, ‘OK, I can probably write a song about it.’ It is a little funny song; it is kind of a play on words.”
Who does Amanda look up to as an artist? Dolly Parton. “She is wonderful and beautiful. Her songs are so pretty. She is great at always being herself and never sacrificing that, and yet she is well respected. She came on at a time in the country music scene when there were not women doing what she was doing, trying to branch out and making it out. I relate to that as I was a young person coming up in the New Orleans music scene and trying to make my way.”
Catch one of Amanda’s shows with her band Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, and you will see couples on the floor spinning around holding each other, kids dancing on top of their parents’ feet, and an entire community being held together by a fiddler and her band.
With her love for the French Acadian culture and a Hispanic heritage, Amanda brings a true flair of what it means to preserve one’s history and culture in an ever-changing world.