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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Heavy As Lead’ By Leyla McCalla

The following was originally published at Ongoing History Of Protest Songs.

Back in April 2014, the Flint water crisis began when the decision was made to switch from treated water to an untreated water source for the sake of saving money. This resulted in lead contamination that adversely affected over 100,000 residents. Residents in Flint, Michigan still do not have clean drinking water.

Even though this crisis may be the most publicized incident, there are several communities that grapple with lead contamination.

One individual, who was personally affected by this issue, is Leyla McCalla. The cellist/multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter wrote about the subject on the tune, “Heavy As Lead,” which appears on her recently released third album, “The Capitalist Blues.” It is one of several socially conscious tracks on the album.

In a press statement, McCalla explained the motivation behind “Heavy As Lead”:

Lead intoxication is a systemic environmental health issue that affects children and families all over the United States. I wrote this song after discovering that my own child had high levels of lead in her blood. I’m thankful that my husband and I had the resources to tackle and rectify this issue, but I sing these words thinking of all the families from New Orleans, LA to Flint, Michigan grappling with a system that takes no responsibility for solving this environmental health crisis.

You can sense the very real desperation in McCalla’s voice during the six-and-a-half-minute tune. She pleads for a solution to what should be a preventable problem.

The lyric, “Don’t tell me everything’s gonna be alright,” carries power because the people who say it will be alright are the same blame shifters who helped create the problem.

Politicians may claim to have the best interest of their constituents, but they turn a blind eye to systemic problems. They are willing to make decisions that put the bottom line above people. They will only start to fix the problem after the public outcry becomes loud enough.

McCalla is a former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and is currently involved with the project Our Native Daughters, which also features fellow former Chocolate Drop, Rhiannon Giddens. Their debut album, “Songs of our Native Daughters”, is due out February 22, 2019.

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CJ Baker

CJ Baker

CJ Baker is a lifelong music fan and published writer. He recently started a website chronicling the historical developments of protest music: ongoinghistoryofprotestsongs.com, and can be found on Twitter @tunesofprotest