Leyla McCalla and Mélissa Laveaux, Cadogan Hall – EFG London Jazz Festival

Leyla McCalla and Mélissa Laveaux both explored the history and music of Haiti in their EFG London Jazz Festival concert at Cadogan Hall. Laveaux, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, opened the evening with a set focusing on the US occupation of Haiti, and the humour and melodrama of Haitians, as she put it. Although suffering with a cold, Laveaux’s raspy voice was commanding. Accompanied by Elise Blanchard on bass and Martin Wangermée on drums, Laveaux’s folk-rock reworking of traditional Haitian songs really deserved a standing audience. As Laveaux said, she was not used to playing in a seated venue. She got the crowd on their feet however with a standing ovation.

Following Laveaux, McCalla’s touching set was soulful and powerful. With a band of guitar, double bass and drums, and switching herself between cello, tenor banjo and guitar, the subtlety of McCalla’s voice was truly captivating. She brought impressive variety to the short set, playing songs from both her 2013 and 2016 albums and from her upcoming album The Capitalist Blues. Her music seeks to connect issues and events throughout history. It’s not “random”, she says, when discussing refugees fleeing Haiti in the 1980s and 90s, to Syria in 2016, in relation to the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Marrying personal and political struggle, the feeling she conveys live creates a sense of hope in the power of people, and in a less overwhelming, human approach to social justice. A motivating expansive intimacy. The second standing ovation of the night was well deserved.

McCalla and Laveaux closed the evening together with Manno Charlemagne’s ‘Pouki’. They explained some of the lyrics: “Why does life not separate us equally?” This felt like an appropriate way to end a thought-provoking and inspiring evening.

Annie Walker-Trafford

The Write Stuff

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