Artist: Leyla McCalla
Label: Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi
Formats: CD, MP3, LP
Release date: May 27, 2016
The goal of multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla’s project is to link the musical heritages of three areas: Haiti, Southern Louisiana, and the larger United States. On her second album, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey, McCalla draws from each of these traditions, as well as her own compositions, for an album that navigates between haunting reflections and carefree charm.
A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is inspired by a book of the same title, written by ethnomusicologist Gage Averill. The work explores popular music, power, and politics in Haiti. Keeping with this theme, McCalla’s covers “Manman,” by Haitian singer-songwriter and political activist Manno Charlemagne, in a lilting political statement. On “Manman,” McCalla is joined by Rhiannon Giddens, her former bandmate from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their experience sharing harmonies translates beautifully to this new context.
McCalla’s focus on folklore and politics moves to a darker place with a cover of “Vietnam”—Abner Jay’s haunting reflection on going to war. “Salangadou”—a creole song about a distraught mother seeking her child—finds McCalla and vocalist Sarah Quintana reflecting the song’s helplessness with a sorrowful interpretation: Their voices weave in and out of key, much like a mother’s emotions at the thought of losing their loved one. The title track is an ominous performance, exhibiting the beautiful insecurity of McCalla’s voice. This aesthetic adds an urgency throughout the album.
The entirety of McCalla’s album, however, does not focus on life’s heavy tribulations. The light-hearted “Bluerunner” shows off a rollicking good time between fiddler Louis Michot, ti fer (triangle) player Daniel Tremblay, and McCalla on cello. McCalla’s cello is a constant presence throughout the disc, moving between solid accompaniment and a subtle lyricism.
Watch the music video for A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey:
While A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is an ambitious, transnational, and well-performed project, McCalla has yet to construct a focused bridge between the heritages she represents. As such, the album can feel disconnected amidst its individual tracks. Despite this shortcoming, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is a sound contribution to the musical map of hopes, fears, and history that link the Afro-Atlantic.
Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach