Leyla McCalla – Breaking The Thermometer (ANTI-)

Leyla McCalla – Breaking The Thermometer (ANTI-)

Breaking The Thermometer began life as an exploration of the legacy of Radio Haiti. A consistent voice of social change and democracy against a backdrop of huge political turbulence, it was the first independent radio station in Haiti and one that during the 1970s was the sole such provider of news and commentary in Creole, the language of most Haitians. As the project developed, though, it began to raise wider questions for its creator Leyla McCalla about the position and role of immigrants in modern society.

Born in New York City to Haitian parents who were emigrants and activists, Leyla McCalla is perhaps better placed than many to reflect upon issues of displacement and national identity. On Breaking The Thermometer, the classically trained musician and member of Our Native Daughters – a collaboration with three other North American singer-songwriters, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell – combines a series of her own compositions and traditional Haitian tunes, splicing them with excerpts from historical broadcasts and contemporary interviews as she embarks upon a journey of self-discovery and reflection. The record’s narrative speaks of social upheaval and oppression and as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its 10th week, and with more than 5 million refugees having left Ukraine since the war began, Breaking The Thermometer assumes an even greater immediacy and emotional resonance.

The story begins with ‘Nan Fon Bwa’ where Leyla McCalla’s cello joins the company with Jeff Pierre’s magical percussion capturing the richness and expression of Haiti as it readily transports the listener to that part of the world. The music merges seamlessly with a recording of McCalla speaking to her mother about childhood visits to Haiti, highlighting the personal dimension of this musical experience.

The story ends 14 songs later with ‘Boukman’s Prayer’, Leyla McCalla’s gospel-tinged vocal cast over a gentle percussive accompaniment before Breaking The Thermometer comes full circle to the sound of the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean lapping on Haiti’s shores. In between these two staging posts, we join McCalla on her personal odyssey to the sounds of spirited Afro-Caribbean rhythms and her beautifully textured voice as powerful in English as it is in Kreyòl.

‘La Bai est Fini’ positively leaps from the speakers, all vibrant banjo and crashing cymbals as a pack of local canines join in with the chorus. Her powerful interpretation of Brazilian artist Caetano Veloso’s Tropicália tune ‘You Don’t Know Me’ captures all the loneliness and human resilience that lay at the very heart of the original. And the sheer joy of ‘Vini Wè’, a song inspired by the love story of Radio Haiti station owner and journalist Jean Dominique and his wife and fellow journalist Michéle Montas, reflects the sunrise of its title and the indefatigable spirit, resistance and freedom of expression of not only those behind the station’s transmission but also the Haitian people themselves.

Breaking The Thermometer is released on 6th May 2022 through ANTI-

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.