Photo: Noé Cugny

Leyla McCalla presents a balm for modern tensions with “You Don’t Know Me”

New Orleans-based musician and songwriter Leyla McCalla is releasing a new album called Breaking The Thermometer on May 6; a record that draws on her Haitian heritage, having been inspired by accessing the archives of Radio Haiti. She’s already shared the songs “Forte Dimanche” and “Vini Wè”, and as a third offering she today presents “You Don’t Know Me”, a song originally by Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso. She says:

“There’s a line in the song that says, ‘there’s nothing you can show me from behind the wall’, and it reminds me of not only the figurative walls that we put up when we can’t empathise with people from other cultures but also of the rhetoric surrounding the wall between the US and Mexico, a reminder that these issues have always been part of the conversation about immigration in the Western world. The sentiments in the song mirror a lot of the feelings shared and documented about exile Radio Haiti’s journalists.”

With all the conflicts in the world today, from minor Twitter spats to artillery action between nations, “You Don’t Know Me” is possibly more timely now than it was in 1971. With McCalla’s voice swerving from honeyed to impassioned with natural verve, we feel the breadth of desire for connection and understanding – and her ferocity towards those who choose to remain ignorant. Aided by dextrous instrumentation that pays tribute to both the song’s Brazilian origin and the singer’s Haitian history, it’s a balmy, beautiful and necessary form of protest.

Listen to “You Don’t Know” me below, and beneath that check out a video of McCalla explaining the story behind the song.

Leyla McCalla’s new album Breaking The Thermometer comes out on May 6 through ANTI-. You can find her on Bandcamp, Twitter and Instagram.