Busking in New Orleans

By Chloe Nawn

If you have ever spent a day wandering around Jackson Square, or a late night weaving in and out of Frenchmen Street bars, it is likely that you have encountered Adrian Jusdanis, a spirited violinist, performing alongside electronic percussionist Alex Koltun and keyboardist Max Jones as the band New Thousand. New Thousand is a hip-hop/trap jam band hailing from Columbus, Ohio, making a name for themselves in New Orleans. New Thousand shines because each of its members offers something spectacularly unique, and when they come together it can only be described as some kind of wild, symphonic party. Similar to New Orleans, the band is a little unconventional, but in the best of ways.

The three musicians first visited New Orleans in 2013 without any intentions of moving there. Koltun and Jones took a bus to the city after hiking the Appalachian Trail. Jusdanis, a life-long friend and junior at Ohio State, met up with them in New Orleans, since their trip coincided with his spring break. Jusdanis packed along his violin and set off to meet with his friends for a fun-filled trip to New Orleans. He found himself jumping into another street performer’s gig one afternoon, and made a lot more money than he thought he would, which marked the moment Adrian decided that he would move to New Orleans to become a street performer once he graduated. He relocated to New Orleans a year later, just as planned. He convinced Koltun and Jones to follow him the next year to create the band New Thousand, which they named in reference to Ohio-based folk-rocker band, Old Hundred.

Adrian Jusdanis is an enchanting performer; he dances around, beckoning each passerby with his bow and toothy grin to enjoy the eclectic music New Thousand has to offer. Jusdanis is tall and handsome, and only twenty-eight years old, though he has been playing violin since he was six, making him a master of his craft. He allows the music to take control, bobbing his head methodically to the rhythm, drawing attention to the golden tips of his hair as he nods to the music. He purses his lips and furrows his brow as he leans back, tapping to the beat. He is not your traditional violinist. He chooses skinny jeans and striped t-shirts over pressed suits and loafers, and doesn’t sit stiffly amongst others of his trade in an orchestra hall. The members of New Thousand take their talent to a new level, an uncharted territory by mixing classical with electric. The energy of the three musicians invites onlookers to come along for the ride and move their bodies to the music. It comes about organically, and turns heads with its refreshing newness. The band’s performances are completely improvised, “kind of like New Orleans,” the Midwestern violinist remarks.

The music grows as the audience multiplies, with more and more people dancing to the hypnotic reverberations of New Thousand’s music. Adrian creates different sounds by whistling into the violin’s electronic pickup and running the instrument through a pedalboard. With this technology, along with the tools from Koltun’s electronic percussion and Jones’ synth and keyboard, they add delays, pitch-shifts and distortion to give their music that New Thousand flare. They utilize a spectrum of effects that create an array of sounds from whirring reverberation and whistling bells to swelling echoes. They have even done a violin and live electronic cover of popular HBO series Game of Thrones’ theme song, which can be viewed on the band’s YouTube channel and is one of their more well known pieces. This piece in particular showcases the talent of these three, and how they can move from various genres of music all within one piece.

 The streets are where New Thousand thrives. To their audience, they are like snake charmers, luring their serpents to dance. This magnetic attraction is what Adrian says is his favorite part of performing. Jusdanis explains that in addition to it being more profitable than a venue, the streets simply provide a more enjoyable platform for the musicians to perform on. He reasons, “everybody feels like they belong on a street corner, but not everyone feels like they belong on a bar…I like that there’s no stage and people can get right up on us, and you don’t have to deal with grumpy sound men who don’t know how to run an electronic band, since we’re really the only people doing what we do.”

Though Jusdanis says every memory of performing in New Orleans has been unique and special, he recalls his performance the second weekend of Jazzfest 2016 as most vibrant. He says, “We had like 100 people dancing super sexy all around us to the music, with [Vaso] completely packed. It was incredible.” A servant to the music, Jusdanis often throws his bow to the ground and heavily plucks at the violin with his fingers, or plays it behind his head in true rock star form. Much like the city itself, the music New Thousand creates is inviting and inclusive. It is a gift to be able to perform in a city with such rich musical culture and deeply rooted tradition, and Adrian and his bandmates are grateful for that. Street performing in a city as popular as New Orleans takes a lot of time, preparation, and most of all, patience. He explains it as a bit of a waiting game, stating “one of [the band-mates] has to go down and reserve the spot early and just wait it out, because if someone else gets there first, we’re out of luck.” While this goes on, the other two are occupied loading up their gear, which consists of amps, cords, equipment, speakers, batteries, into child carriers that they attach to their bikes. On any given day, they could be performing in Jackson Square and then Bourbon Street and then Frenchmen Street, keeping them out as late as four in the morning.                                           

When asked how he would describe his band’s sound, Jusdanis paused to think of a word that encapsulates their ultra unique style. After a few moments, he gave three words: “hypnotic, psychedelic, and electronic.” While all great choices, something still seems missing, a word that sets their music apart from all of the rest— alive. Their music is as spontaneous, enveloping and unique as the city in which they so love to perform. They breathe life into their music, and keep it alive everyday, whether they’re performing on Frenchman, Bourbon, or in Jackson Square. Any person who has ever blissfully thrown their head back listening to the euphoric melodies or danced alongside the band and tossed a few dollars into the open case has contributed to the growth of the band. A city known for its musical roots, New Orleans was the perfect place for these musicians from Ohio to do what they love, and make a decent amount of money doing it. Jusdanis describes New Orleans as “an absolutely amazing city,” and provides insight into what makes it so special. He revels, “it often times just feels like the rest of the country doesn’t know how to live; people are genuine [in New Orleans], and honestly putting people over money and friendship over productivity.”

New Thousand has an overwhelming amount of energy, with Adrian Jusdanis being perhaps the most lively violinist, ever. “New Thousand tries to create a positive, inclusive atmosphere, and people are really drawn to that;” Jusdanis says, “the fact that we are able to unite people through our music is a very powerful thing… to have so many people share an experience and a common identity.”

The band that Adrian first encountered and played with on his first trip to New Orleans is also a staple French Quarter performance group. They go by the name Buku Broux, which roughly translates to “a whole lot of fusion,” a fitting name for the band that is most notable for performing with the kora, a peculiar instrument that originates from West Africa. The kora is a large 21 string harp lute that consists of a long hardwood neck that passes through a gourd to create a resonator, and is covered with cow hide as a soundboard. It is not an instrument many people in North America are familiar with, but for Jonah Tobias, it is his livelihood. Tobias, who learned the kora seven years ago after seeing a Senegalese musician perform at a music festival, remembers the moment he first heard its sweet melodic tunes vividly. He recounts, “it was the deepest and most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and I knew immediately I would play it.” Two years later, he moved to New Orleans from Northern California and began street performing. The band came together when he found Fernando Lima, a Brazilian percussionist, playing on Frenchman Street, and saxophonist Phil Sylve rapping in a park

Tobias and percussionist Lima moved to the city around the same time, and Sylve is a born and raised New Orleanian. “I wanted somewhere free and funky like California, but with a bit more soul. Also, it is an amazing place to be a working musician,” Tobias says. These three musicians perform with so much heart and soul, they consistently mesmerize their audience. Tobias loses himself in the music, closing his eyes and letting its melodies fill the streets. Their ability and drive to expand the options of each instrument, and open the floodgates to a wealth of creativity and ideas which seem to just pour out of them. Lima utilizes each end of the drumsticks to create different sounds on the high-hat, and plays with cymbal scratches, too, for extra character. Phil had a preexisting reputation as a master saxophonist, and his vital deep riffs and jazzy mood are imperative to Buku Broux. Though Tobias says that the saxophone and kora are like harmonious cousins, Phil explains that playing alongside such an instrument was a learning process, stating, “I had to come up with a way to play with the kora. It kind of grew as time went on, but you know, I only really play with this band this type of way.” New Orleans has provided a phenomenal foundation for Tobias to build his sound with the kora, as it is a pretty versatile instrument. He credits the addition of Adrian Jusdanis, who is a part-time member of Buku Broux, as a pivotal point in the creation of his sound. Tobias confesses, “a huge part of my sound came from when Adrian joined the band- he was the first one with the pedalboard and all of these effects that I now use with the kora. It was so cool, and I just couldn’t be missing out on that.” Adrian chimes in, saying, “we’re not coming out of this genre and wanting to have a particular sound, everyday it is just like, ‘oh, I feel like playing this, or maybe I’ll throw this in there.’ And it is just piece by piece, this is how the music comes together.” New Thousand and Buku Broux both favor performing in the streets of Jackson Square. “It provides a different environment. The acoustics of the buildings are amazing and we also eat lunch out there and get to be outside. It doesn’t have the ugly hustle of being street side,” he explains.

Together, these musicians create a transformative environment that tests the boundaries of conventional music. Whether it be a Brazilian rhythm matched with bellows from the African kora, or New Orleans funk mixed with techno hip-hop, there is no shortage of originality in these two bands. Jusdanis puts it simply, “our music is a process of discovery because we create these songs together bit by bit, but every time we perform it is going to be different. It is all about letting the music take control, and having fun with it.” There is no better place to explore musical creativity than New Orleans.

 

 

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