On Histories, Stories, and Identities: A Conversation with Leyla McCalla

Originally published with The Bluegrass Situation on April 20, 2016.

For cellist Leyla McCalla, everything begins with rhythm. On the titular single off her sophomore album — Day for the Hunter, Day for the Prey — the formally trained McCalla takes her bow, drawing it back like an arrow and embodying for a moment the song’s noted hunter before releasing it in quick, short bursts that suggest a ballooning urgency. McCalla’s approach twists the cello’s low, luscious timbre to produce a different, but equally physical, effect on the listener. As a composer, her technique defies the traditions that shaped her musical foundation, helping her tell more nuanced stories as a result. The song, based on a Haitian proverb, recounts two narratives almost simultaneously — cello and banjo on the one hand; a second cello and fiddle on the other. Instead of devolving into a cacophony, the stories find their nexus, a point that echoes throughout the album and McCalla’s life.

[Full interview available at The Bluegrass Situation.]

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