Words by Kevin Bourke
Second album from cellist and one-time Chocolate Drop
A former touring member of award-winning African-American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, cellist Leyla McCalla made her solo debut with Vari-Colored Songs, a tribute to Langston Hughes, one of the best albums of 2013. Here, she alternates between cello, tenor banjo and guitar, singing in English, French and Haitian Creole on a set that’s just as impressive.
Once again she draws extensively and imaginatively on the graceful, defiant Haitian folk songs of her heritage along with ones from the Creole tradition of Louisiana, her adopted home. Significantly, though, three equally appealing songs have been written by McCalla herself, including the splendidly poised opening title-track, named after a Haitian proverb that also provided the title of Gage Averill’s 1997 book about popular music, power and politics in Haiti.
Guest appearances include her Carolina Chocolate Drops colleague Rhiannon Giddens on a lovely version of ‘Manman’, originally penned by Haitian activist Manno Charlemagne, while legendary guitarist Marc Ribot lends a Tom Waits-esque clatter and bang to traditional Haitian song ‘Peze Café’.