"A HARBINGER OF A TOWERING CAREER" – SING OUT
A tribute to Langston Hughes comes out of the interconnected worlds of New York, NY; New Orleans, LA; and Haiti for Leyla McCalla, marking the release of 'Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes' (February 4 / Music Maker Relief Foundation) the stunning debut album of the cellist/vocalist and former Carolina Chocolate Drops member.
"Hughes begins his book 'I Wonder As I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey' by traveling around Haiti," she points out. McCalla herself has undertaken a similar journey. Born and raised in the New York, NY area into a Haitian immigrant family, she adopted the Crescent City as her hometown.
She explains, "After I moved to New Orleans, I read Ned Sublette's [book] The World That Made New Orleans and I was blown away by how much Haiti was mentioned. There are so many Louisianans with Haitian origins. What is Cajun? What is Creole? There's so much overlap in cultures. Langston Hughes' work is all about providing history from a black perspective; He provides a good compass."
Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops lent McCalla a box set of Haitian folk music as she was preparing 'Vari-Colored Songs.' McCalla arranged "Kamèn sa w fè" by Ago Fixè from the Alan Lomax recording of Ago’s Bal Band made on Christmas Day, 1937 in Port-au-Prince. "What a great groove," she says.
Leyla recalls, "I discovered that there are different lines of Haitian folk music and heard recordings with ties to France and Africa. I fell in love with the troubadours in particular. It's a banjo tradition of rustic countryside music, old but also Haitian. The melodies so irregular, not like anything I had heard before in other types of music." "Manman Mwen," "Latibonit," "Mesi Bondye" also come out of the traditions of Haiti. "Dad helped me a lot, translating lyrics," she says.
She has traveled to Haiti each of the past three years and her mother lives here now, working in international development, each trip inspiring her to create 'Vari-Colored Songs.'
The traditional New Orleans song "Changing Tide" joins the album as well, a symbol of her present home and of its and her eclectic heritage. In fact, she played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2012.
Tour dates: http://www.leylamccalla.com/
Sing Out Magazine has raved, "What a voice, more Billie Holiday than anything, flourishing in such bare surroundings and bringing the words, whether joyous or dark, to life… As arranger, musician and vocalist she’s a remarkable talent, and this debut is assured and a harbinger of a towering career."