The singer and cellist has released The Capitalist Blues, a rougher third album which draws on the same reasons for revolt: the past and the present, in the United States and Haiti.
The cultured New York public enthusiastically embraced her new project. After long success in a delicate folk-blues trio, in the company of Free Feral (violin) and her husband, Daniel Tremblay (guitar, banjo), the cellist and singer (who also handles banjo and guitar) has updated her group by including a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist who shreds a Guild Starfire IV. It’s a more powerful combination, but one that we love just as much.
Leyla McCalla’s turn is also a straight line, since the New Yorker is thus extending the process begun about ten years ago when, by settling in New Orleans, she set out to immerse her Haitian roots in the gumbo of Louisiana music (jazz, blues, Cajun). “The decision about the new combination is both familial and artistic,” she explains two weeks later, this time in Paris where she is promoting her third album, The Capitalist Blues. Familial, because she is now travelling with her eight-month-old twins, while Daniel Tremblay is staying home in the Lower Ninth Ward, taking care of their four-year-old daughter. Artistic, because Leyla McCalla has increased her orchestration at the same time as the intensity of her message: “I have discovered that I’m not just a cellist. I also have a voice and I want to use it to express what matters to me in society. I grew up with the social conscience of my activist parents, then I experienced poverty when I traveled to Haiti. It was at that time that I started a process to analyze my experience as a Haitian-American woman and, more broadly, to understand the world in which we live. This is not just about Trump, but about the entire history of relations between Haiti and the United States, over four centuries of slavery, industrialization, and exploitation. Not to mention that France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany are all part of the same global movement.”
New Orleans, where rents are soaring under the pressure of tourism and gentrification, pushing the working classes out of the city, is an example of the abuses that the singer denounces: “The natives are pushed out, while without them, it is no longer the same city. But the damage to the system affects all of Louisiana, for example, when oil companies make the law and damage the environment by focusing only on their profits.” To fuel her revolt, Leyla McCalla listened a lot to American protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as Gesner Henri’s Haitian group Trio Select, known as “Coupé Cloué,” whose song “Lavi Vye Neg” she covers. “In any case, everything is political,” she asserts, recalling that her convictions are nourished by her reading of history books, and by her presence in Trump’s America: “He made me paranoid. I have less confidence in white men because I wonder what they think of me, my children, my marriage, and my ideas.”
Leyla McCalla joins in the current struggles in which women are on the front line, whether within the Black Lives Matter movement, during marches against Donald Trump, or in politics itself with personalities like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris. In the same way, with Our Native Daughters — the new folk super-group formed with Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, and Allison Russell, whose album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, will be released in a month — she exposes the role and suffering of black women in American history. It’s as if her two twins, who are shouting loudly, were telling her to work toward a better future.
Leyla McCalla, The Capitalist Blues (Jazz Village / [PIAS])