The singer and cellist spells out the songs that shaped her before playing the Lagniappe Stage today at 2:20 p.m.

leyla mccalla photo by greg miles for my spilt milk
Leyla McCalla, by Greg Miles

On last year’s A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey, Leyla McCalla situated her exploration of her Haitian Creole roots in South Louisiana, not by making Cajun or zydeco music, but by working with Louis Michot, Don Vappie and other area musicians to find a place where their ideas meet. The performances have obvious intellectual rigor, but it never comes at the expense of heart. McCalla is just as clearly emotionally engaged in the stories told in her songs, just as she is in her playing. On record and live, she brings so much musical sense to her performances that as spare as it sounds, her cello and her voice are often all she really needs.

Last weekend, we asked Boyfriend to give us her Milky Way—the eight songs that map her musical universe. Today, McCalla shares hers as well.

“Ma” by Tom Ze

This song cemented my fandom of Tom Ze, a musician from Brazil. I'm a huge fan of Tropicalismo and artists like Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil. I love the marriage of traditional and experimental elements in Tom Ze's music. The groove here is so solid and infectious. 

“Powa” by tUnE-yArDs

I love tUnE-yArDs! I once saw her play a solo show at Domino Sound, and it seems her career just exploded right after that. I was so impressed with her live show, but her record Whokill is the album that made me fall in love with her musical imagination, which feels larger than life. I love this song "Powa" for its boldness and its ability to walk the line between being so powerful and so gentle. 

“Ensemble Select en Action” by Trio Select 

This is an early recording of Gesner Henry, also known as Coupe Cloue, with his group Trio Select. I love the fuzzy guitar sounds and the deep pocket of this music. It sounds like Haiti to me.  

“Mesi Bondye” by Lolita Cuevas and Frantz Casseus 

This song, "Mesi Bondye,"  and this particular arrangement changed my life. It's a song that was written by Frantz Casseus in the 1950s and remains one of the best known songs to come out of Haiti. I play this song often at my shows and I never get tired of the melody or the crooked form. 

“Les barres de la prison” by Canray Fontenot 

I fell in love with Canray Fontenot's music about a year after I moved to New Orleans. I remember going into the Louisiana Music Factory and asking them if they had any Creole fiddle music and was completely dismayed by the fact that they didn't know what I was talking about. I eventually found this Arhoolie record Louisiana Hot Sauce featuring a handful of Canray recordings. Each song on this record is a gem, but "Les barres de la prison" is a favorite. 

“Ayiti pa Fore” by Manno Charlemagne

This is a song that I listened to about 400 times before beginning to understand the words. Manno Charlemagne is a total legend in Haitian music, the poet laureate of Haitian folk, who faced several attempts on his life for singing out against the Duvalier Regime in the ‘70s. Manno's baritone is one of the most soothing sounds I've ever heard, and because his poetry is unrivaled, his guitar playing is so under-appreciated. This song speaks in metaphor about the Tonton Makout, the paramilitary force assembled by Papa Doc Duvalier, named after a Haitian myth about a bogeyman that kidnaps and punishes unruly children. 

“The Cricket Song” by Petunia and the Vipers

I love the dreaminess of this song and the power and expressiveness of Petunia's voice. I can hardly believe he's from Montreal when I hear his voice! He has such an amazing ear for melody and phrasing. I can never get enough pedal or lap steel. 

“La part du diable” by Bernard Adamus 

Bernard Adamus is a Quebecois artist that I met through my husband (also from Quebec), who is quite good friends with Bernard. I love this entire album, Sorel Soviet So What. It's an incredible collection of songs that I would recommend as listening for anyone. This song slays me! Bernard's music is part folk, part hip-hop, part rap, part jazz. This is one of those songs that I listened to 1,000 times to try to catch all of the words, which it turns out are very witty and funny. I love how playful and intense this song is.