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Musician Leyla McCalla Sets February Release for Langston Hughes Tribute

by Holley Dey                     ©2013 OnTapBlog All rights reserved

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Mesi Bondye

Thank you God, look how misery has ended for us.
Thank you God, look what nature has brought for us.
Rain has fallen, corn has grown.
All the hungry children are going to eat.
Lets do the ibo dance, lets do the petwo dance.
Father God in heaven the misery has ended for us.
The misery has ended for us.
The misery has ended for us.*

The Sunday Times of London recently compiled a list of the top 100 albums of 2013, ranking Leyla McCalla’s debut high among them.  Well received and reviewed in Europe, one writer describes the music as “understated magic”.  Just last week the album and artist earned an important mention in the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog.  Recently recognized with a French Coup de coeur award, Vari-Colored Songs: A Langston Hughes Tribute will be released on February 4, 2014 in the United States (pre-order here).

The new album  is Ms. McCalla’s first solo effort and has been more than five years in the making.  The project began when she set the words from a Langston Hughes poem to music, and ultimately developed into “an homage to his life and work and also to the creativity he’s inspired in me.”  The final product includes her tribute to poet, novelist and social activist Hughes, in addition to Haitian folk songs and original compositions in what Leyla describes as a “very personal exploration of African-American and Haitian history through song.”

The first selection previewed from the new album is “Mesi Bondye”, or “Thank you, God.”  Listen below to the classic Haitian folk tune, delivered in Leyla’s storyteller voice and set against banjo and steel guitar, eloquent in its simplicity.

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While Vari-Colored Songs is her first solo effort, many will recognize McCalla as the classically trained cellist who has played and toured extensively with string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, contributing to the group’s Grammy nominated album Leaving Eden.  Leyla was introduced to the band by a director of the Music Maker Relief Foundation; he discovered the young artist busking on the streets of New Orleans.  After several years in school and as a working musician in New York City, Leyla had moved south in search of musical inspiration.  She found that inspiration in The Big Easy where the rent was paid by giving cello lessons and playing Bach to passersby.

A multi-instrumentalist, Ms McCalla also plays tenor banjo and guitar.  On Vari-Colored Songs,  she is supported by Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmates Rhiannon Giddens on vocals and Hubby Jenkins on bones.  Don Vappie plays tenor banjo and drummer Damas “Fan Fan” Louis adds percussion.  Recording and promotion of the new album were partially supported through a Kickstarter campaign that was fully funded within a week of posting, and that ultimately achieved quadruple the original goal.

She is proud of her first creative effort and album release, but knows it won’t be her last.  Leyla  says that she is even more excited to realize that more music will be coming down the road.  Only a hunch, but listeners may feel the same way…..

Now in Europe, Leyla McCalla plans to tour the U.S. early in 2014.  The first dates are available here.  Follow Leyla on Twitter and Facebook.

leyla-863Leyla McCalla with Dom Flemons and the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the 2012 Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival

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*translation via Markus Schwartz

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. ontapblog #

    Beautifully written, Holley. I loved the Chocolate Drops when I saw them. Leyla’s trio is coming to Philly and hope to catch her new trio. Best wishes to her this year. Thanks again.

    December 15, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thank you, Louise. I’m looking forward to hearing Leyla perform live as well. She’s earning rave reviews in Paris, so Philly can’t be far behind! 🙂

      December 16, 2013
  2. Linda T #

    Wow, I love the first song. Looking forward to this album’s release next year! Thanks for the post — I love anticipation! 🙂

    December 16, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Me too, Linda! I’ve pre-ordered – a little holiday gift to myself. Leyla won a blues award in France for this album, and is included in at least two “best of 2013” record lists in the UK. Really looking forward to it!

      December 16, 2013
  3. Rayjer #

    Great review, Holley. Thanks for turning me on to Layla. Beautiful girl making beautiful music. Hope she comes to Charlotte some time soon!

    March 2, 2014
    • ontapblog #

      Thank you, Rayjer! She is a lovely, bright girl and a talented live performer as well. I hope she travels your way soon!

      March 2, 2014

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