WILLIAMSBURG — The Williamsburg Live concert series is set to make its return to downtown Williamsburg this weekend after being canceled last year due to the pandemic.
While the concert goers are excited to see live music again, at least one of the headliners is just as excited if not more so to play this weekend.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Leyla McCalla is looking forward to her show for several reasons. For starters this will be the first time in 15-months that she will play music with her band in front of a live audience.
Another reason she is excited to play on Saturday night is that it happens to be Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans.
“I am so happy that the show is happening on that day in that location,” she said. “I [am] happy that we have turned a corner societally. I am never going to be quiet about that history and I am so happy that I feel safe not being quiet.”
The sentiment behind not being quiet is something on which Leyla has built her career. A native of New York, she studied cello performance and chamber music at New York University. From there she moved to New Orleans to play on the streets of the French Quarter while also becoming a member of the Grammy-winning band, Carolina Chocolate Drops.
After leaving the band for a solo career, Leyla began turning heads with her first album, “Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” in which she set a number of poems by the celebrated author to music.
Since then she has released two more albums full of lyrically driven socially conscious music inspired in large part by her Haitian heritage. Playing the cello, tenor banjo and the guitar, her music spotlights any number of issues and emotions, often times in more than one language.
Leyla, whose parents emigrated from Haiti, loves the connection between her heritage and the origins of Juneteenth, especially as the nation come out of the pandemic fueled lockdown.
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“I love that I am going to be able to sing in Haitian Creole, which to me is the ultimate language of resistance to colonial power and the hoarding of wealth,” she said. “There is so much significance for me every time I perform, but I have not performed for people in a long time, so this is almost like a coming out party.”
Leyla is looking forward to dropping her next album in early 2022. She recorded it during the lockdown, taking songs from a multidisciplinary theater piece she worked on called, “Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever.”
The project was commissioned by Duke University and combined storytelling, dance, video projection and audio recordings as it tells the story of Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station as it spoke out against injustice in that country.