PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Leyla McCalla's 'The Capitalist Blues' Is the Essential Album to Inspire Resistance

Photo: Sarrah Danzinger / Courtesy of Shore Fire

Leyla McCalla's The Capitalist Blues is an inspired album centralizing the importance of music as an outlet for castigating society's ills.

The Capitalist Blues
Leyla McCalla

Jazz Village

25 January 2019

Listeners should expect tenacious political and social commentary from an album titled The Capitalist Blues. Leyla McCalla, the renowned cellist and Americana/folk performer, unequivocally delivers. First receiving recognition as a member of the iconic old-time string group the Carolina Chocolate Drops, McCalla's solo career is equally rousing. Her latest release, The Capitalist Blues, is an inspired album centralizing the importance of music as an outlet for castigating society's ills. More so, each track reveals McCalla's fluency with varying musical genres ranging from R&B to traditional Haitian, rock 'n' roll to Calypso, and Cajun dancehall to zydeco. Despite the array of genres, The Capitalist Blues is a coherent and meaningful call for resistance.

The opening title track features a swanky New Orleans jazz rhythm accented by a prominent horns section and tinkling piano. A trumpet develops a melancholic interplay with McCalla on banjo echoing the track's discontent with upward mobility. "The Capitalist Blues" specifically addresses the ubiquitous narratives enforcing a singular understanding of achievement. She problematizes the notion of labor and capital especially when an individual is consistently told "to go a little higher / Try to take a different view / But you can see / I'm not inspired / I've got the capitalist blues." "The Capitalist Blues" addresses the turmoil derived from physical and emotional labor when the outcome is empty and measured in monetary yield only. As McCalla contends, labor as a method to accrue capital is a fruitless endeavor "if I give everything / I won't have much more to lose/ It's not fair, it's not right." Marxism meets jazz swing in The Capitalist Blues.

McCalla engenders the hardships she sings about. "Heavy As Lead" exhibits the ordeal experienced by her family when her daughter underwent treatments for lead poisoning. McCalla summons a soul music influence underscored by an organ to convey the song's powerful sense of worriment. McCalla's voice is steadfast as she laments the economic concerns weathered by families experiencing similar conditions. For many, the high costs associated with treatment are devastating and insurmountable. When her voice ascends to sing, "Don't tell me everything's gonna be all right," she renders a fortified call for empathy rather than charity. Her voice signals the distress synonymous with survival while critiquing the systematic conditions upholding environmental health issues.

McCalla continues her consideration of the oppression endured under capitalism in "Money Is King". Prodigiously reflective of the contemporary moment, the track portrays the privilege gained from wealth. Originally recorded during the Depression era by the Trinidadian calypsonian, Neville Marcano a.k.a. Growling Tiger, the song lambastes inequality and consumerism. Consider the prevailing cases of affluenza resulting in zero jail time or the sneering MAGA-hat wearing teen's ticket to a sit-down interview on the Today Show. As Growling Tiger lamented and McCalla reestablishes, "people do not care if he have cocobay [a skin disease] / He can commit murder and get off free / And live in the governor's company / But if you are poor, the people tell you 'Shoo!' / And a dog is better than you."

McCalla is not myopic in her criticism of capitalism. She clearly articulates the direct correlation between economics and consumerism to other forms of oppression. "Mize Pa Dous" raises consciousness about poverty. She sings in Haitian Creole and uses a lap steel guitar and a tanbou, Haiti's national instrument, to root her Haitian heritage. "Aleppo" evokes a more prominent rock 'n' roll sound as McCalla switches out her banjo for a riotous electric guitar. The track's distinct politicality is reinforced by piercing distortion creating an aural discomfort. This is McCalla's overt method of engaging her audience. The listener's discomfort is petty and trivial compared to those living in a calamitous war zone. Yet, McCalla does not succumb to the tendency to enshrine an issue without offering a solution. The track, "Penha," is a prayer for peace which McCalla translated from the Portuguese.

As such, The Capitalist Blues is not entirely a call for uprising and awareness. Rather, her inclusion of jaunty and uplifting tracks are justly compelling thereby enabling the album's sense of balance. "Lavi Vye Neg"'s use of percussion creates mirthful energy revisited in "Settle Down's" polyrhythmic force. "Me and My Baby" features Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony to create a vocal bouncy juxtaposed to the full-band instrumentation. While "Oh My Love" summons the sounds of classic Cajun music as the track's use of accordion radiates. At times, the instrumentation is so vibrant and robust McCalla's vocals are lost. This is likely intentional to utilize her voice as simply another instrumental line.

So rise up, advocate for change, create music for social progression but have a little fun in the meantime. Leyla McCalla's The Capitalist Blues is the essential album to inspire resistance.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.