|Leyla McCalla — Vari-Colored Songs |
Leyla McCalla — Vari-Colored Songs
♣ Vari-Colored Songs is an album of songs written to Langston Hughes' poetry, Haitian folk songs and original compositions.
Location: Haiti ~ New Orleans, Louisiana
Album release: September 30, 2013
Record Label: Dixiefrog
01. Heart Of Gold (2:59)
02. When I Can See The Valley (2:10)
03. Mesi Bondye (2:25)
04. Girl (2:53)
05. Kamèn sa w fè? (2:20)
06. Too Blue (2:28)
07. Manman Mwen (3:19)
08. Song For A Dark Girl (2:51)
09. Love Again Blues (2:40)
10. Rose Marie (2:57)
11. Latibonit (3:47)
12. Search (3:19)
13. Lonely House (3:26)
14. Changing Tide (3:00)
◊ Leyla McCalla finds inspiration from a variety of sources, whether it is her Haitian heritage, living in New Orleans or dancing at Cajun Mardi Gras. Leyla, a multi-instrumentalist, is a cellist and singer whose distinctive sound is impossible to replicate.
◊ Leyla’s music reflects her eclectic and diverse life experiences, projecting a respect for eloquent simplicity that is rarely achieved. Born in New York City to Haitian emigrant parents, Leyla was raised in suburban New Jersey. As a teenager, she relocated to Accra, Ghana for two years. Upon her return, she attended Smith College for a year before transferring to New York University where she studied cello performance and chamber music. Armed with Bach’s Cello Suites, Leyla moved to New Orleans to play cello on the streets of the French Quarter.
◊ It is the move to New Orleans that signaled a journey of musical and cultural discovery for Leyla. “New Orleans always felt like home to me,” she recalls. “The more I learned about the history of Louisiana, its ties to Haiti and French speaking culture, the more sense of belonging I felt and continue to feel.” Most recently, Leyla has fallen in love with the late Louisiana Creole fiddlers Canray Fontenot and Bébé Carrière and has explored their fiddling styles on the cello.
◊ Leyla’s move to New Orleans also signaled a new stage in her career. It was while playing on the street that she caught the attention of Tim Duffy, the founder and director of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. He invited Leyla to join the Music Maker Relief Foundation family and introduced her to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a renowned African-American string band. After appearing on the band’s GRAMMY-nominated album Leaving Eden and touring extensively with the group, she now focuses on her solo career.
◊ Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, Leyla’s debut album, is set for a February 2014 release. The album, which has been years in the making for Leyla, was given a push after a successful Kickstarter campaign in which she surpassed her $5,000 goal by four times to ultimately raise over $20,000. Vari-Colored Songs consists of compositions she has written to Langston Hughes poetry, Haitian folk songs and original pieces. The album features musicians including Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops as well as New Orleans’ own Don Vappie on tenor banjo and Luke Winslow King on guitar.
Carolina Chocolate Drops: http://www.carolinachocolatedrops.com/
Chris Colbourn — Concerted Efforts: / 617.969-0810
Timothy Duffy: / 919-643-2456
◊ Leyla McCalla est une violoncelliste et multi-instrumentiste vivant à New-Orleans. Ses parents, d'origine haïtienne, vivaient à New York et elle rend hommage dans cet album à un écrivain noir américain des années 20, Langston Hughes. Elle a mis en musique certains de ses poèmes et propose des chansons en créole. Un beau disque, plein de fraîcheur, qui puise ses racines dans la culture noire, caraïbéenne et créole.
Elle est actuellement en tournée en France et en Europe avec Rhiannon Giddens (des Carolina Chocolate Drops!).
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013 17.37 BST
Cellist Leyla McCalla: from Bach on the street to Haitian folk-jazz
She fell in love with her instrument by accident at school. But, far from an orchestral career, she has chosen to explore the music of America's deep south instead.
◊ "'When I chose to play it in fourth grade, I didn't know what a cello was. I thought it was a woodwind instrument. I walked up to this table in the classroom with all these different instruments on it and picked up the piccolo. But from across the room, the teacher called out: 'Leyla McCalla! Leyla McCalla!' I turned around and she had a cello in her hands. It was almost as big as me, really cumbersome and not at all what I was expecting."
◊ Leyla McCalla has been finding out what a cello is — and what it can do — ever since. Having initially restricted herself to the classical music world, her artistic brief now takes in the folk songs of her parents' native Haiti as well as the old-time music of the American south. A touring member of the African-American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, with whom she is almost permanently on the road, McCalla has found time and space to record an album of her own — the exquisite Vari-Colored Songs.
◊ Today is something of a rest day, a stopover in Greensboro, North Carolina, en route to her adopted home in New Orleans. Not that it is much of a rest day, though. ◊ She is surrounded by musical instruments in the living room of Rhiannon Giddens, her Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate. A break in rehearsals — while Giddens takes her seven-month-old son for a stroll around the neighbourhood — allows McCalla to explain why she diverted from the cellist's usual passage towards conservatoire and orchestra.
◊ "My family moved to Ghana for two years when I was in high school and I quit playing," she says. "There was no one to study with there and it put my conservatory hopes on hold. After we moved back to the States, I met a cellist called Rufus Cappadocia. His playing blew my mind — really rhythmic and exciting. It made me want to explore this instrument, to figure out what it can do besides all the things I love about it."
◊ McCalla not only reassessed how she played the cello — experimenting with finger-picking, strumming it like a mandolin — but also stepped outside the classical canon to embrace old-time tunes and Haitian folk songs, traditions previously untouched by the cello. "I get more out of music creating things that people have never heard before," she says. "And that continues to propel me."
◊ Three summers ago, McCalla took the decision to up sticks from New York and settle in New Orleans. "I thought that moving there would bring out some creative things that I couldn't explore in New York, where so much of my life was spent trying to figure out how to pay the rent. I moved on a wing and a prayer, but suddenly I was totally in charge of my own life."
◊ She soon became a fixture on the streets of New Orleans, strapping her faithful cello on her back and riding her drop-handlebar bike to a regular spot in the French Quarter, outside the police station. There she would treat passersby to Bach's Cello Suites. "The police, and everyone else, seemed to like me because the music was classy for New Orleans. Usually, it's bands playing Dixieland jazz or a guy stomping his foot and playing plugged-in bluesy guitar. But they were like: 'Oooh, classical music. Wow!' I'd sit there for five hours a day, sometimes more. I met people that way. I started playing with local bands, sitting in with a few people, starting to play more jazz, starting to write more songs."
◊ As well as freeing her up creatively, McCalla's relocation put her closer — geographically and culturally — to her Haitian heritage. "I didn't realise there was such a connection between Haiti and New Orleans," she says, citing their shared Spanish colonial past (originally French, it was part of the Spanish empire during the late 18th century). "But if you go to cemeteries in New Orleans, you see my family name on a lot of the tombs. Haiti is such a part of Louisianan history."
◊ Using songs to dust off this hidden history, McCalla's art was chiming with that of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who had tracked her down to that pitch outside the police station. "I appreciated the clarity of what they were doing — telling the untold story of the black string band tradition and living that music, sharing its history with people."
◊ These graceful, defiant Haitian folk songs, sung in Creole in McCalla's bell-clear voice, elegantly illuminate Vari-Colored Songs. The record's title comes from its opening track, a poem by the African-American literary titan Langston Hughes, set to music and retitled Heart of Gold. It's one of several Hughes poems to take song form on the album. "Music was such a big part of what inspired him to write in the first place," explains McCalla. "His poems just feel so musical. I began recording little snippets that became songs. It could have become a huge project. I could have been doing this for the rest of my life!"
◊ Even though McCalla's curiosity has sent her down paths previously untrod by the feet of cellists, the events in that New Jersey classroom a couple of decades ago have long defined her. "I got stuck playing cello," she sighs. "My teacher said: 'You have long legs. You'll be good at the cello.' Not that that has anything to do with it but, proportionately, it does fit my body." She laughs, presumably at the accidental wisdom she showed as a nine-year-old. "It's definitely been the right instrument for me." (http://www.theguardian.com/)
|Leyla McCalla — Vari-Colored Songs |
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