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Leyla McCalla | Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever

A music/film/dance project set to new music by Haitian-American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla exploring the legacy of Radio Haiti


Duke Performances will commission, develop, and present the world premiere of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever — a multidisciplinary performance set to new music by Haitian-American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla. The project explores the legacy of Radio Haiti-Inter, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, and the assassination of its owner, Jean Dominique, in 2000. Duke Performances will premiere Breaking the Thermometer on March 4, 5, and 6, 2020 at Duke University’s von der Heyden Studio Theater, the culmination of a ten-day production residency.

Developed in collaboration with New Orleans-based director Kiyoko McCrae, Breaking the Thermometer weaves together storytelling, dance, video projection, and audio recordings from Duke’s Radio Haiti archive with McCalla’s own compositions and arrangements of traditional Haitian songs. Through this juxtaposition of voices — the personal and political, the anecdotal and the journalistic — McCalla gives expression to the enduring spirit of Haiti’s marginalized poor in the face of several centuries of political oppression. And she pays homage along the way to the activists like Dominique who have fought, often at great personal cost, to amplify these unheard voices.

Breaking the Thermometer is the latest installment in Duke Performances’ From the Archives initiative — following Jenny Scheinman’s Kannapolis and Gerald Clayton’s Piedmont Blues — in which performing artists create works engaging archival materials from Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Radio Haiti Archive is contained within the broader Human Rights Archive at Duke. Over the past two years, McCalla and McCrae, with guidance from Duke professor and Haiti specialist Laurent Dubois and Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, have mined this archive for recordings that showcase the impact of Radio Haiti-Inter on Haitian cultural and political history.

Other works previously commissioned and presented by Duke Performances engaging archival materials from the Rubenstein collections include indie-rock outfit Hiss Golden Messenger’s Heart Like a Levee (William Gedney’s photos), pianist/composer Jason Moran’s IN MY MIND (Jazz Loft Project photos and audio), and choreographer Ron K. Brown’s One Shot (Charles “Teenie” Harris’ photos).

The premiere of Breaking the Thermometer will conclude a ten-day residency with opportunities for free public engagement around McCalla’s music, the legacy of Radio Haiti-Inter, and the life and activism of Jean Dominique. Through visits to Duke classes on Haitian history, songwriting, and African diasporic dance; a public workshop on multimedia project collaboration; and an off-campus lunchtime conversation moderated by Dubois featuring McCalla, McCrae, and Wagner as panelists, the residency will engage a broad cross-section of the Duke and the Durham communities, with targeted outreach to the local Haitian population. Partners include The Duke Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke, The Pinhook, and The Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, which hosted the first production residency in September/October 2018.

Duke Performances is lead commissioner of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever. Additional co-commissioners to be announced shortly.

Personnel includes Leyla McCalla (cello, guitar, banjo), Damas Louis Fan Fan (percussion), Shawn Myers (percussion), and Jeremy Guyton (dancer/choreographer).

Project Media

Leyla McCalla. “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey”
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0-3:31 (full video)

Leyla McCalla performs her song “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey” live at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana, November 2, 2015. Video by Claire Bangser.

Start and End Dates



Durham, North Carolina

Project Created By

Durham, North Carolina
Duke Performances, the professional performing arts presenting organization at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is committed to presenting willfully eclectic, forward-thinking performing arts of the highest quality. Through superb performances, outstanding visiting artist residencies, and the development and commissioning of exciting new work, Duke Performances is forging a culture that vigorously supports performance and…

In Collaboration With

Durham, North Carolina
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
Albany, California
Production Residency Host
New Orleans, Louisiana


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