The globalization of pop music has been under way for a while now, with the sounds and sensibilities of K-pop, reggaeton and myriad other Latinx styles serving as major sources of fuel. Still, much pop that's aimed at Anglo audiences tends to be stripped of meaningful cultural markers and metabolized as mildly exotic seasoning in accessible new hit-making conventions. The roots-music scene can display assimilationist tendencies, too, but it's also home to a small but growing number of artists — including Leyla McCalla and her sometime bandmate Rhiannon Giddens, Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra, Dom Flemons and Kaia Kater — who don't stand by and accept the whitewashing of culturally distinct origins. Instead, their work does the intellectual labor of clarifying; of reconnecting the dots, reconstructing context, retelling and sometimes personalizing neglected stories.
That needn't be anything close to a dry, academic exercise, as McCalla proves on The Capitalist Blues. The new album, her third, imaginatively maps her vision of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and summons bodily, social and emotional wisdom through its dance music, gently taking Anglocentricism down a notch in the process. The Haitian-American singer-songwriter has said that moving to New Orleans nearly a decade ago helped her connect more viscerally to historical Haitian Creole resilience and musical expression. She's spent the years since primarily accompanying herself on cello — using it as a choppy, churning rhythm instrument rather than a lyrical one — in bilingual contemporary folk ballads and string-band compositions. This time, she laid her cello aside in favor of electric guitar and tenor banjo and enlisted an R&B-reviving veteran of the New Orleans club scene, Jimmy Horn of King James & the Special Men, to produce. A rotating cast of musicians — including specialists in the living traditions of various Haitian, Brazilian, Cajun, zydeco and calypso styles — supplies the feels and textures she wanted.