30 July 2014

Late night tracks / Leyla McCalla


Once again, it's a late night and I'm lazing on the couch, listening to songs on repeat.  And maybe the night has a certain velvety atmosphere to it because just like last time, I find myself serenaded by yet another singer-songwriter.  (Nothing wrong with that!)

Tonight's soundtrack features the talents of Leyla McCalla, a New Orleans-based Haitian-American singer with her hands strumming across an ensemble-full of instruments: cello, banjo, guitar - and probably others that are slipping my mind at this hour.

What I enjoy the most is the simplicity of the instrumentation and yet the richness she is able to achieve with such elements.  Some of her songs are in Haitian Creole (kreyol ayitien), some are in English, some are folk songs or based on Langston Hughes poems, but all are soulful and lilting.  It's like having a living room jam session, Nawlins-style.  And something more.

From her new album released earlier this year, Vari-Colored Songs, one of my favorites is "Mesi Bondye," a folk song sung to the jaunty tenor banjo.  Some lyrics (kreyol and English):

Mesi Bondye, gade kijan la mize fini pou nou. 
Mesi Bondye, gade kisa la nati pote pou nou. 
Lapli tonbe, mayi pouse. 
Tout timoun ki grangou, pwale manje. . . .

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. . . .

The conclusion is: let's dance!  That should be the conclusion to many things, right?

I didn't find a great video of this song, though, so included a different kreyol song about the Arbonite region of Haiti, with great instrumentation (plus, just watch the musicians get into the groove!).  And here's another:



I discovered Leyla through the Twittersphere, which is serendipitous and makes me feel indebted to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who happened to hear her music in his friend's car.  (Yes, 140 characters can contain this much information.)  This little episode showcases one of the reasons why I even joined Twitter in the first place: the ability to discover unexpected new things, like bread crumbs in the forest when you weren't even looking for food (or a trail).