Leyla McCalla – A Day for the Hunter. A Day for the Prey

Equally as comfortable with soul-ridden interpretations of songs in
English, French, and Haitian Creole, Leyla McCalla has always been
something of an innovator in her lane. Wherein her previous effort, solo
debut Vari-Colored Songs, saw her giving a musical life to the
words of celebrated poet Langston Hughes, she now takes inspiration from
the words of a traditional Haitian proverb popularized in Gage
Averill’s 1997 book, A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey.

Encapsulating such broad traditions as those embraced in such proverbs, finding (as she had called it in an interview with NPR)
the “resistance and subterfuge” in Haitian music upon which she bases
her foundations,  grants McCalla the uncanny ability to transport those
who listen intently to another place and another time. Since her time
with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and onward, McCalla has a nuanced
consistency in transforming trilingual, pan-African poetry (both in the
form of original writing and well-chosen covers) into classical and
folk-stylized songs that fully envelop the traditions of Haitian music
for the modern audience to behold. As she did with translating the words
of Hughes into a musical collective on her solo debut, she does so
again on A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey, and returns to
listeners with another fully conscious set of multi-layered songs
written and performed in dedication to Haiti and its people.

Not unlike her previous effort, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey
establishes itself as a complex, politically-minded and proud album
right from its opening moments. The album’s titular opening track,
written about Haitian refugees traveling by boat to the United States
and their vulnerabilities while on that path, does well in establishing
the idea that this is an album with purposeful intent wrapped around its
inception right away. Musically, it wraps itself around McCalla’s
stellar use of the cello as its primary instrumental fold, with an
acoustic ensemble featuring banjo and light percussion offering
themselves well to its sweeping overall arrangement. It builds up with
her jubilant vocal performance as she chants the titular proverb in
rising fashion.

It’s fortunate that someone as dedicated to her complex roots as
Haitian-American McCalla has been birthed as a musician, giving her
prominent vocals and deep-rooted lyricism much more of an infectious
foil to ensnare them within to develop an even further listenable
package. From the buoyant, playful stride of her cello as it pairs up
with a fiddle on “Les Plats Sonts Tous Mis Sur La Table”, to the
mystifying gypsy jazz of “Far From Your Web” and the subtle ethereality
tinging the heartbreak of her performance of traditional Creole slave
song “Salangadou”, she once again wears the history of her people on her
sleeve and, in doing so, not only establishes herself as a creative
tour de force, but also as a genuine article artist whose work
transcends the traditional laymen’s perception of music as purely a
purpose of entertainment value. As enjoyable as her music is at a
baseline level, McCalla embraces so much more in terms of her passion
for the complex history of the Haitian people on A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey. It’s another fantastic album from her.

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