Named 2013’s Album of the Year by the London Sunday Times and Songlines magazine, Leyla McCalla’s debut album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, made a profound impression upon all who heard it. The record, which set some of Hughes’ poems to Leyla’s music, and also included original compositions and Haitian folk songs, received rapturous reviews for its haunting mixture of music and message.
A Haitian-American who sings in French, Haitian Creole and English, Leyla McCalla plays cello, tenor banjo and guitar. Deeply influenced by traditional Creole, Cajun and Haitian music, as well as by American jazz and folk, her music is at once earthy, elegant, soulful and witty — it vibrates with three centuries of history, yet also feels strikingly fresh, distinctive and contemporary.
Offbeat called Vari-Colored Songs “ambitious, deep and gorgeous,” while the Boston Globe described the record as “at once varnished and sparse, like field recordings in high definition.” The track “Heart of Gold” was featured on NPR, which noted that the song’s instrumentation “sounds like lonesome nighttime.” But it was the New York Times who perhaps put best, characterizing the album’s material as “weighty thoughts handled with the lightest touch imaginable.”