Leyla McCalla announces new album, 'Breaking the Thermometer,' exploring Haitian-American identity and legacy of Radio Haiti – NOLA.com

Choreographer and dancer Sheila Anozier and musician Leyla McCalla

Gambit staff writer
Choreographer and dancer Sheila Anozier and musician Leyla McCalla
New Orleans-based musician Leyla McCalla will mark Haitian-American Heritage Month in May with the release of a new album influenced by her research into Radio Haiti-Inter. The album “Breaking the Thermometer” is out May 6 and will be McCalla’s first release on the ANTI- Records label.
A few years ago, McCalla was invited by Duke Performances, an arts organization at Duke University, to explore the university’s Radio Haiti archives. Radio Haiti was that nation’s first independent radio station and its first to broadcast in Creole, spoken by most Haitians, when other media was broadcast in French. Led by journalists Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas, the station was a staunch promoter of democracy and human rights and celebrated Haitian life and culture.
McCalla, who is Haitian-American, used her research to create “Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever,” a program combining new music with storytelling, dance, video projection and audio pulled from the Radio Haiti archive. Produced and co-directed by artist Kiyoko McCrea, “Breaking the Thermometer” premiered at Duke Performances in early 2020 and made its New Orleans debut last December at the Contemporary Arts Center.
The new album will pull from the program and features original compositions and traditional Haitian songs, mixing in Radio Haiti broadcasts and contemporary interviews. Check out the first track and music video below for “Vini Wè,” a song inspired by the the love story between Dominique and Montas. The video is directed by Zuri Obi, who developed the sound and projection design for the theater performance, and features Sheila Anozier, the program’s choreographer and dancer.
“While many of the songs on the album are inspired by the listening that I have done in the archive, much of the album is deeply self-reflective — integrating experiences that I have had navigating life as a child both in the U.S. and Haiti, my journey in claiming my Haitian-American identity and understanding the experiences, sacrifices and challenges overcome by my immigrant relatives,” McCalla said about the album.

McCalla and McCrea spoke with Gambit last year before “Breaking the Thermometer” debuted at the CAC. You can read more about the program here.
Email Jake Clapp at jclapp@gambitweekly.com

Music, dance and storytelling explores the history and importance of Radio Haiti and the work of journalists like Jean Dominique, but it also frames Haiti through McCalla’s perspective.
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