“Her voice is disarmingly natural...her magnificently transparent music holds tidingsof family, memory, solitude and the inexorability of time: weighty thoughts handled with the lightest touch imaginable.” —The New York Times
Leyla McCalla finds inspiration from her past and present, whether it is her Haitian heritage or her adopted home of New Orleans, she — a bilingual multi-instrumentalist, and alumna of Grammy award-winning African-American string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops — has risen to produce a distinctive sound that reflects the union of her roots and experience.
Deeply influenced by Creole music, as well as by American jazz and folk, McCalla’s music is at once earthy, elegant, soulful and witty — it vibrates with three centuries of history, yet also feels strikingly fresh, distinctive and contemporary. In her most recent release and third solo album, The Capitalist Blues (2019), McCallaprocessed the current political environment in her own way, by sonically blending New Orleansmusic and Haitian jazz, with lyrics sung in English, French and Haitian Creole. The album “imaginatively maps her vision of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora while gently taking Anglocentricism (and capitalism) down a notch,” said NPR. “She's partly in the moment and partly looking beyond it, and seeing truths that we've missed.”
McCalla’s widely-acclaimed collaborative project, Songs of Our Native Daughters (Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell), released via Smithsonian Folkways in 2019. The album pulled influence from past sources to create a reinvented slave narrative, confronting sanitized views about America’s history of slavery, racism, and misogyny from a powerful, modern black female perspective.
She is currently working on her newest project,Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever, a multidisciplinary performance commissioned by Duke Performances that delves intothe legacy of Radio Haiti, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, through its archive housed at the Rubenstein Library at DukeUniversity.Leyla’s music reflects her eclectic and diverse life experiences, projecting a respect for eloquent simplicity that is rarely achieved.
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