Friday, February 28, 2014

Leyla McCalla featured in NY Times: Nods to Haiti and other traditions

Folky music takes unlikely paths nowadays. One is the trajectory of Leyla McCalla, who was born in New York to Haitian parents, studied classical cello at New York University, toured with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and moved to New Orleans, where she busked on sidewalks (playing Bach) and soaked up some of America’s most Creolized traditions. All of that filters into “Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes” (Music Maker), which mingles her settings of Hughes poems — which use the plain-spoken language of the blues — and traditional Haitian songs in Haitian Creole. Her voice is disarmingly natural, and her settings are elegantly succinct: often just the barest lattice of plucked strings (cello, guitar, banjo), with an occasional turn toward old-time swing or Haitian rhythms. Her magnificently transparent music holds tidings of family, memory, solitude and the inexorability of time: weighty thoughts handled with the lightest touch imaginable.

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