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.