“Her voice is disarmingly natural...her magnificently transparent music holds tidings of 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), McCalla processed the current political environment in her own way, by sonically blending New Orleans music 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.
Her newest recording, Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever, (out May 6th, 2022) explores the legacy of Radio Haiti, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, as well as of the journalists who risked and lost their lives to broadcast it for nearly 50 years. On a more fundamental level, the collection is a deeply personal reckoning with memory and identity, with the roles of artists and activists and immigrants in modern society, with the very notion of storytelling itself. In delving into the project, McCalla found herself forced to grapple with her own experiences as a Haitian-American woman, unraveling layers of marginalization and generations of repression and resolve as she searched for a clearer vision of herself and her purpose. The result is at once a work of radical performance art, historical scholarship, and personal memoir, a wide-ranging and powerful meditation on family and democracy and free expression that couldn’t have arrived at a more timely moment.
Leyla’s music reflects her eclectic and diverse life experiences, projecting a respect for eloquent simplicity that is rarely achieved.