Leyla and the Medicine Women

Her instrument is:

“this mermaid whose hair can sing
this cross to bear a wooden box
half hourglass half hollowness
restraining resonant air
to know what is not woman
not thing but voice
and with the audience
mute as a landscape
to let it scream”

Ramon C. Sunico ~“Cello poem”

I believe we all have a voice that can be found through playing an instrument.” Leyla McCalla


Recent NYU graduate Leyla McCalla studied cello performance and chamber music with some of the best musicians in New York City. “I had amazing teachers who inspired me to pursue a musical career”, she says. Playing the cello for the past 15 years, she has honed her skills working with an eclectic mix of musicians. This young cellist’s musical adventures have so far included creative residencies in New York City, a journey to Peru to participate in a Jazz Festival, a teaching post with the Noel Pointer Foundation and a schedule of gigs in venues such as the Cornelia Street Cafe and Carnegie Hall, with Gil Scott-Heron and Mos Def at the JVC Jazz Festival. Much to the delight of Washingtonians, she will be performing this week-end at the Kennedy Center in D.C. with Mos Def’s big band, Amino Alkaline Orchestra.
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I was delighted to catch Leyla’s performance with Medicine Woman last night at the Tea Lounge, a funky jazz cafe in the Slope.
With Medicine Women Leyla McCalla (cello), Deborah C. Smith (guitar), and Liz Hanley (fiddle). The three instrumentalists are also talented vocalists with voices and tones as diverse as their onstage personalities: Deborah’s is sultry, tinged with mischief; mellowness emanates from Leyla’s; and Liz’s voice, moving and poignant, is perfectly suited to the ballads she sings.
Experimenting with blues, folk, afro-beat, funk and jazz, Medicine Woman (founded by Deborah C. Smith and Leyla McCalla), draws its musical inspiration from the traditional songs of Ireland, Africa, Haiti and the Americas. Acoustic guitars, cello and drums comprise the foundation for its deep grooves. For the last three years, the ensemble has performed live at Pete’s Candy Store, Bembe, Rose Live Music, Zebulon, and other clubs in New York City.
Deborah introduces the band: the name Medicine Woman was chosen to honor women who were entrusted with the art of healing. As stated by Deborah: The art of being a Medicine Woman has not been lost. Each Nation, tribe and village had medicine people; whether male or female was of no consequence. Children who were born with the gift of healing were taken by the medicine person as a young child and taught healing ways. They were taught to recognize the healing plants, trees, roots, berries and wild herbs. They were taught to make music.
And what lovely music they make! The band delivered a strong and diverse set. These musicians have an expressive onstage chemistry as they entwine rhythms and grooves into a moving sound-journey, blending a variety of styles with a funky vibe! My favorite piece? The sweet-flowing Dog Days of Summer, a beautiful, breezy tune. I was also thrilled by Daddy, a Sammy Kaye cabaret song interpreted seductively by alluring Deborah and waif-like Liz to thunderous applause!

Hey, Daddy, I want a diamond ring, bracelets, everything
Daddy, you oughta get the best for me
Hey, Daddy, gee, don’t I look swell in sables?
Clothes with Paris labels?

Daddy, you oughta get the best for me

I also loved the heartfelt Deep Elem Blues which closed the second set and had members of the audience dancing (yes, including moi !)) and tapping their feet while singing along:

Once I had a girlfriend, she meant the world to me
She went down to Deep Elem, now she ain’t what she used to be
Oh sweet mama, your daddy’s got them Deep Elem blues…

True ‘Medicine Women”, these young women play to bring joy and in their own words, “to share the love”. Hey, I’ll take some! Ain’t ever enough of that going around. …

Michele with Leyla

La Diva! I love her spirit.

Blow, girl, blow! Maria was a wonderful surprise on the second set.

Leyla strums the guitar while singing, accompanied by Liz on the fiddle.

A little Hendrix mix on the electric guitar?

Such sweetness and sadness in Liz’s voice…

Saxophonist Maria Eisen, flutist Domenica Papaelias and cellist Leyla McCalla

This musician is also an expressive poet. (Secret’s out, Deborah!)

First time singing and playing the guitar? At the Tea Lounge and just for us!
Blazing technique: Leyla’s performance was vibrant. One could not help notice the dexterity of her fingering and the deep, soulful tone she coaxed from her cello.

Before and After: Preparing the bow before the set and…
…taking the last bow! Last goodbyes after the 2nd set round midnight, before we all turn into Cinderellas.
The original Medicine Women:

Leyla McCalla and Deborah C. Smith

For information about the musicians and The Medicine Woman :

Medicine Woman Roots Ensemble myspace site
Do not miss their next gig: get on their mailing list and learn the lyrics to their signature tune before summer is officially over! 

Dog Days of Summer


in the dog days of summer hope floats on sparks of light between young lovers a walk in the park a kiss in the dark and you know my heart is true its a long time comin’ and its a stretch but its also the best of summer lovin’ a walk in the park a kiss in the dark and its only me and you don’t you wonder sometimes bout sound and vision both contribute to your decision but simple is as simple does go head and meditate on that one love…..

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2 Responses to “Leyla and the Medicine Women”

  1. Saw an excerpt of my poem “‘Cello” on this site and can’t help commenting on how aptly it fits both the painting the the photos! Just curious how/where you found the poem. and oh yes, bravo.

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