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Leyla McCalla Trio musically blends Haitian and Creole culture

The Leyla McCalla Trio features cello, banjo, guitar, violin and even the triangle in their creation of Haitian and Creole inspired music. Photo by Sarah Ruiz

By Hallela Hinton-Williams

The Leyla McCalla Trio took over Herrick Chapel last Monday, Nov. 6 as the end of their Midwest tour, as well as the last public event of the semester for Grinnell College.

The trio is made up of Leyla McCalla, the lead vocalist, who alternates between the cello, banjo and guitar, Daniel Tremblay, who plays the banjo, guitar and triangle and Free Feral, the violinist and back-up vocals. The three play a variety of songs in a genre that blends soul and folk. Their influences mainly stem from Haitian and Creole culture. In fact, a majority of their songs are sung in French and McCalla provides a translation of the lyrics before the song.

Growing up with Haitian parents, McCalla quickly developed a curiosity about Haitian music and culture that fascinated her as she explored instruments such as the banjo, cello and triangle — instruments still present in the trio’s performance. McCalla started to follow prominent Haitian artists and started to adapt the style of music to Haitian and American poets. McCalla’s Haitian roots influence her music style and guide her towards different artists and poets.

Creole culture is another important inspiration for the music the trio plays. The group is based in New Orleans, so the local blend of Creole and Haitian culture is reflected in their music. In the performance on Monday, the audience members saw this Creole influence in their first song, “All the Plates on the Table Are Set.”

During the performance, the Leyla McCalla Trio plays a tribute to the troubadour music common in Haitian culture, emphasizing the music’s tendency to be a veiled social and political commentary. The trio also plays a song, “Money is King,” from an upcoming album, “The Capitalist Blues,” which is inspired from the current political climate and commentary from Haitian and Creole musicians, artists and poets. The group also honors Langston Hughes by adapting his poetry into music, a concept presented in McCalla’s first album, “Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes.”

The Leyla McCalla Trio is a group that unifies the musical genres of soul and folk in their music while honoring roots in Haiti and New Orleans. The group produces beautiful covers, as well as original music that created a great experience for the audience on Monday night.

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