Leyla McCalla – Sun Without the Heat (ENG review)

ANTI records – Street date April 12th 2024
World Folk
Leyla McCalla - Sun Without the Heat

For years, I’ve been talking to you about Leyla McCalla, for various reasons, primarily her authenticity and the growing quality of her albums that rightfully earned her reputation. McCalla’s latest album, and her fifth studio recording, “Sun Without the Heat,” is playful and joyful while carrying the pain and tension of transformation. Throughout the ten tracks of “Sun Without the Heat,” McCalla manages to balance heaviness and lightness with melodies and rhythms drawn from various forms of Afro-diasporic music, including Afrobeat, Ethiopian modalities, Brazilian Tropicalismo, and American folk and blues.

For Leyla McCalla, lyrics are as important as the music, as evidenced by her incorporation of writings from black feminist Afro-futurist thinkers such as Octavia Butler, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and adrienne maree brown. Like these authors, McCalla sees songwriting as a means to foster faith and hope, encourage communal thinking, and catalyze personal transformation. “Writing songs is a way to tell the stories that need to be told,” she explains. “Sometimes, these are painful stories to tell.”

Indeed, there is a form of political engagement in the journey of this artist for whom everything matters, caring deeply about the human condition. Born in New York to Haitian immigrant and activist parents, Leyla McCalla draws inspiration from her past and present – her music resonates with three centuries of history and influences from around the world. Leyla blends cultures, extracts the essence, reshapes them into her art, and her art is vocal as much as it is musical or literary. Each album represents a new exploration, a new direction, and a new vision. Here, traces of folk and urban music are found; cultures and cities shape people, some fail there, while others, like Leyla, draw from it as their source.

“Sun Without the Heat” was recorded during an intense nine-day session at Dockside Studios in New Orleans. Produced by Maryam Qudus, McCalla was accompanied by longtime partners and collaborators Shawn Myers on percussion and drums, Pete Olynciw on electric bass and piano, and Nahum Zdybel on guitar. Qudus contributes with synthesizers, organs, and choir.

“Generally, I go into the studio with the songs and the framework already in mind,” McCalla explains. “But with this album, we built the framework in real-time. It was an intimidating process, but it also made me realize how supported I am by the musicians I work with.”

From my perspective, this new album is the one that most reflects her, managing to surprise us as always. I was particularly touched by the music because one must truly be a great artist to offer such incredibly intelligent musical accompaniments with arrangements of unparalleled class.

Forget everything you know about Leyla McCalla, because this album is more than just “essential”; it is healing and tends to make us better…

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, March 29th 2024


To buy this album


Leyla McCalla: vocals, cello, banjo, guitars
Shawn Myers: percussion, drums
Nahum Zdybel: guitars
Pete Olynciw: electric bass, piano
Maryam Qudus: synthesizers, organs, backing vocals
Louis Michot: fiddle on “Tower”

Recorded and Produced by Maryam Qudus at Dockside Studios, June 20-29, 2023
Assisted by Justin Tocket
Mixed by Maryam Qudus at Best House
Mastered by Heba Kadry, NYC
All songs written by Leyla McCalla (Makala Music (BMI)) except “Love We Had” music by Ali Mohammed Birra, arrangement and lyrics by Leyla McCalla (Makala Music (BMI)).

This album was created at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana during a deeply collaborative 9-day session in June 2023. The sounds on this album were shaped by this specific collaboration – a connection and synergy established over the past 5 years of playing and touring together.
Cover artwork by Cubs the Poet
Photography by Chris Scheurich
Styling by Ali McNally
Management: Left Bank Artists