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Kanaval airs Sundays at 10AM on Different Radio starting 2/14

Credit Photo Courtesy of the Artist

Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms & the Music of New Orleans is a three hour documentary hosted by Haitian-American and New Orleans based artist and musician, Leyla McCalla, a founding member of Our Native Daughters & alumna of the GRAMMY award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Leyla’s work unearthing history and musical tradition, combined with her knowledge of cultural hybridization and her own identity as a Haitian-American have given her a unique voice and perspective. Her music reflects her eclectic and diverse life experiences, projecting respect for eloquent simplicity that is rarely achieved. The program airs at 10AM starting Sunday, February 14.Leyla’s current project, Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever, tells the legacy of Radio Haiti, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, and the assassination of its owner through Leyla’s own Haitian-American lens. The multidisciplinary performance, featuring her original compositions and arrangements of traditional Haitian songs and premiered in March 2020 at Duke University. 

Leyla McCalla
Credit Greg Miles
Leyla McCalla

Because of the island’s Caribbean location, its history as a Spanish and French colony, and past trade enabled by West African slaves, Haiti’s music is richly diverse in styles, incorporating native Taíno, African, French, and Spanish influences. These cultural traditions made their way to New Orleans when more than 10,000 free and enslaved Haitians immigrated to the city after the slave uprising at the turn of the 19th century. Kanaval tells both the story of Haiti’s rich history and its influence on the music of New Orleans.Kanaval celebrates the origins, history, and persistent influence of Haitian culture and features interviews and music from Boukman Eksperyans, Paul Beaubrun, RAM, Lakou Mizik, Chico Boyer, Win Butler & Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, Ben Jaffee of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and others. Throughout the documentary historical insights and interviews are provided by Ned Sublette (historian, writer, and musician), Laurent DuBois (Duke University and author of numerous books on Haitian history), Distinguished Professor of Social Science and Associate Professor of Sociology at Loyola University-New Orleans, Angel Adams Parham, Ph.D., award-winning author Edwidge Danticat, Linda Reno & Lori Martineau (Haitianola Organization), Elizabeth McAlister, Professor of Religion and African American studies at Wesleyan University and author of Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora. There are playlists and more information at the Kanaval website. Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms & the Music of New Orleans is produced by Alex Lewis, an award-winning independent radio producer and musician whose projects include Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, Every ZIP Philadelphia, Localore: Finding America collaboration with AIR and WHYY, Expandable Sound series of musical portraits for Clocktower Radio, and WXPN’s Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul. Alex is leading a team of producers including editor and writer Cheryl Devall (Reveal, Code Switch, Marketplace) and award-winning New Orleans-based radio producer, writer, and audio documentarian, Eve Abrams. WXPN Assistant Station Manager Bruce Warren and General Manager Roger LaMay are the project’s Executive Producers. The three part program airs successive Sundays on Different Radio at 10AM, beginning February 14. 

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I was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, and grew up mostly in and around the Rochester area. I got my radio start at WBKT at Brockport High school as a sophomore, and was its station manager in my senior year in high school. I had caught the radio & TV bug. While in high school, I started working for the local commercial station in town (WWBK/WJBT). While attending SUNY Brockport, I helped build WBSU-FM, and started as an intern for WXXI-TV. I started working for WXXI in the broadcast operations area, and eventually became an online television editor. In 1985, I took a position at WHYY in Philadelphia in their engineering department, working primarily as a video editor, but also provided audio support for TV productions and for some radio productions, including NPR's Fresh Air.