Chinese students played their traditional musical instruments in a spontaneous “jam session” with a group of visiting Cajun musicians at NYIT-Nanjing last week. The NYIT Center for Humanities and Culture at NUPT, one of 17 American culture centers which foster intercultural communications throughout China, hosted a group of visitors from Louisiana for a series of meetings with students. The highlight was the informal gathering where Cajuns and students each shared their traditional instruments: the Cajun accordion and “fiddle,” and the Chinese pipa, erhu, and hulusi.
The musicians, Jesse Lége (accordion), Joel Savoy (fiddle), Sammy Lind (fiddle), and Nadine Landry (guitar and percussion), are finishing a tour of Chinese university campuses, events that may represent the first time Cajun music has been played in the People’s Republic of China. Joel described the meeting with NYIT and NUPT students as “a great way to wrap it up.” Folklorist and radio host Nick Spitzer, Ph.D., who, along with Cajun folklorist and filmmaker Conni Castille, accompanied the musicians, declared, “The jam session today was definitely the best one we’ve had.” Spitzer recorded audio from the interactive meeting for later use on his public radio show, American Routes.
Cajun fiddler Joel Savoy (left) jammed with Chinese students Wan Zhen and Ma Xiang Yun. Folklorist and radio host Nick Spitzer (left foreground) recorded the music for his radio show.
Student Wu Jun Ru, who taught herself to play the gourd flute known as hulusi, wanted to get to know the Cajun instruments. After a discussion about the difference between a “violin” and a “fiddle,” she got her chance to investigate the accordion. Jesse’s accordion was made, she learned, by Joel’s father. The student seemed fascinated by it.
Other students questioned the group of musicians about practice times and learning to keep tempo together. “We don’t practice,” responded Joel. “These are songs we have been playing our whole lives.”
NYIT Electrical and Computer Engineering student Peter Huang said afterward, “It was a good chance to enjoy American culture and another kind of music.” He added, “We also had the chance to listen to Chinese music with American music.”
In a later gathering, Castille introduced and showed two of her films to an audience of about 35 students and faculty: the 23-minute “I Always Do My Collars First,” which shows ironing to be much more than merely a chore, and “King Crawfish” (48 minutes), which features “everything Cajuns value,” including their language, music, and (not least) crawfish. Dr. Spitzer, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University and creator and host of American Routes, then presented his 1986 film about Louisiana creole culture, “Zydeco.”
Center Director Beverly Butcher, Ph.D., stated, “This was a very successful event, with students showing great interest in this unique American folk music and culture.”
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