Recent Spanish-Language Kids Music Albums (and One Portuguese Album)

While the flood of kids music designed to teach kids a foreign language has thankfully slowed down somewhat (the results were usually very dry, musically-speaking), what's left over is generally of higher quality.  I wanted to highlight ever so briefly some recent Spanish-language (or mostly Spanish-language) albums for kids.  I've even thrown in a Portuguese-language album for good measure.  Whether any of these would sneak into my 2015 list of ten great Spanish-language kids music albums, I'd need to spend a little more time thinking about, but all of these five albums are worth listening to in one way or another.

 Arriba Abajo cover

Arriba Abajo cover

The highest-profile of the five albums here is probably 123 Andres' Arriba Abajo, which picked up the 2016 Latin Grammy.  Based in Washington DC, Colombian-born Andrés Salguero has carved a niche by playing Spanish-language music that features more sounds of Central and South America than just Mexico.  This album features 10 songs sung entirely in Spanish, then the same 10 songs with English lyrics.  The lyrics are targeted at a preschool age (see "Cosquillas," or "Tickles"), so they are simple and direct, while the music is definitely more sophisticated.  (I particularly enjoyed "El danzon y al cha cha cha" and "Vuela, vuela" for the music.)  You can stream the album here and elsewhere.  I'm not sure kids would learn Spanish just by listening, but there have been far, far worse attempts at these sorts of album -- this is far more tuneful.

 ¡Alegria! album cover

¡Alegria! album cover

Los Angeles-based Sandra Sandia took a long time between albums.  The late 2015 album ¡Alegria! arrived about 7 years after its predecessor.  The inspiration for the project was some drum loops produced by a musician called DJ Salada, all with a Brazilian flavor.  The vast majority of the lyrics are in Spanish, and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) translations are nowhere to be found.  But as a pure listening experience, that may help.  And with songs about cats, snakes, whales, and, erm, flying saucers ("Platillo Volador"), the album is clearly targeted at kids.  With a more modern South American sound, this album might serve as a useful counterpoint to the more traditional sound of 123 Andres.

 PANORAMA album cover

PANORAMA album cover

The most adventurous album (subject-wise, but also musically) of the bunch may be Moona Luna's early 2016 album PANORAMA.  It loosely tells the story of a family bus trip through South America, which means it has the time for songs about traveling (the title track), walking around cities at dusk ("Atardecer (Sunset)"), or just being with family ("Llevame (Take Me with You)").  Moona Luna's mastermind Sandra Velasquez has crafted some memorable melodies and, like all of these albums, a nicely-layered production.  And while Moona Luna's first songs were much more rigid in featuring Spanish-language verses and then direct-translation English-language verses (or vice versa), these latest songs are more flexible.  It means that you could take just about any song out of the context of the album, and still want to listen to it amidst a bunch of English-language kids music with more of a pop-rock flair.  (Stream it here and elsewhere.)  It's my favorite album of the bunch, but if it's yours depends on what you and your family are trying to get out of listening to Spanish-language albums.

 Cuando Era Pequeña cover

Cuando Era Pequeña cover

For a shinier, poppier (albeit still Latin-influenced) take on the bilingual album look to Los Angeles’ Nathalia Palis (aka Nathalia).  On her 2016 album Cuando Era Pequeña (When I Was Your Age), the Colombian-born Palis switches from English to Spanish nimbly, sometimes within the same chorus, but also leaves room for songs sung entirely in one or the other language.  There is no (overt) language acquisition goal here, just themes that’ll sound familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the kids music world -- dancing like dinosaurs (“Dinosaur Dance,” natch), birthdays (the all-English “It’s My Birthday”), and perseverance (the pop-rocker “Otra Vez”).  There’s a big distance between this album and, say, the Paulinho Garcia album below, one that’s bigger than the language difference, but it’s also healthy that non-English language music for kids and families can cover such a wide range of styles and subjects.

 Aquarela album cover

Aquarela album cover

Finally, unlike the other albums here, Aquarela from Brazilian-born, Chicago-based Paulinho Garcia is sung in Brazilian Portuguese.  (It's a release from the Global Language Project, which encourages the study and learning by kids of languages other than English.)  The melodies are sung by Garcia, accompanied by a small number of musicians who lay down the barest of musical accompaniments.  For any of you who have heard, say, Getz/Gilberto (and many probably have, even if you don’t know it), the samba sounds here (and the accompanying female vocals of Silvia Manrique) will have a soothing, familiar feel.  The title track is delightful, as is “Meu Limao, Meu Limoeiro,” but those are only a couple of the highlights.  If you want to learn Portuguese, the physical album includes lyrics in both the Portuguese and the English translation, but the relaxed take on these traditional Brazilian kids’ songs make for a pleasant spin regardless of whether you've got a second language in mind.

Catching Up (with Reviews)

 Let All the Children Boogie cover

Let All the Children Boogie cover

As I noted a couple months ago, I'm trying to re-think how I write in-depth about music and how I write album reviews in particular, and promised I'd clear a number of albums off my plate, as it were.  Although it's not terribly well-known, I have a separate section of the site dedicated just to album reviews, which generally included shorter takes on albums.

Over the past week or so I've written a number of briefer reviews, and I didn't want folks who normally just stop by this main part of the site to miss them.  So here's my list...

The Playground Zone - Alphabet Rockers

Sugar Free Allstars - Sugar Free Allstars

Lemonade - Justin Roberts

Could Come True - Timmy Abell

Music Is Everywhere - Mista Cookie Jar

Let All the Children Boogie: A Tribute to David Bowie - Various Artists

The Rocket Went Up!: Sing-A-Long History Vol. 2 - The Deedle Deedle Dees

Funny Faces - Michael and the Rockness Monsters


The (Mostly) Compleat Foreverywhere (plus Steve Burns Interview!)

 Foreverywhere album cover

Foreverywhere album cover

We're big fans of StevenSteven's Foreverywhere around these parts, so because lead Steven Steve Burns recently answered a handful of questions about the album, I thought it'd be worth the time to put together the set of videos Burns and co-Steven Steven Drozd put together for the album alongside Burns' responses.

It's just such a fun album, y'all, including the 3-song arc across the entire album telling the story of a princess and a very persistent unicorn.  You can read my review of the album (linked above) for some background on the long and winding road the duo's taken to get to this point, but at this point, enjoy the interview and the music and visuals.

Zooglobble: What was the final push or change that let this long-germinating album out into the world?

Steve Burns: We finally just said "let's do it ourselves".  It seemed like such a shame to let it fester indefinitely in the ether...and I figured it made sense with the 20th anniversary of Blue's Clues

StevenSteven - "A Fact Is a Gift That You Give Your Brain [YouTube[Note: I love this song and video so much.]

 Steve Burns in concert

Steve Burns in concert

What was your motivation behind writing the three Unicorn / Princess Rainbow songs?  Did you want to tell that story and find you just couldn’t fit it into one song?  Did you want to write some songs that could fit over the arc of an album?

I really want to do something that told a story, sort of like Puff the Magic Dragon or Ziggy Stardust or Harry Nillson's "The Point". I've always loved narrative music- it's something The Flaming Lips do so well for example. We also want to take deliberately established kids entertainment "cliches" like rainbow and unicorns and sort of give them an unexpected rock and roll upgrage...if that makes sense.  Also for the record, we've been doing the whole unicorn thing since about 2008, Starbucks.

StevenSteven - "The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow" [YouTube]

The album features some very “serious” songs and some very silly ones -- how did you think about how to fit them together on the album, and whether or not they’d fit together at all?

I think if there's a thread that runs through the songs, it's about never giving up. From The Lonely Unicorn, to the song about bullying, to the one about the toilet bowl, there's a strong theme of determination and courage on the album. At least I hope there is!!!

StevenSteven - "OK Toilet Bowl" [YouTube]

Photo credit: Jeremy Slutskin

Monday Morning Smile: "Everybody Gets a Kitten" - Jeremy Messersmith

 11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs... cover

11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs... cover

I'm a longtime fan of Jeremy Messersmith, dating back to seeing him at SXSW in 2010.  At the time, he was prepping an album called The Reluctant Graveyard, a baker's dozen of songs about death and dying, not exactly the prototypical album you'd expect to be featured on a kids music website.  (Note: it wasn't featured here, though it's a pretty great album.)

A couple weeks ago, Messersmith released 11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs For Ukulele: A Micro Folk Record For The 21st Century And Beyond, an album of, well, that album title says it all.  The songs are 100% delightful and, even better, if you sign up for Messersmith's mailing list via his website, you can get a copy of a ukulele songbook for the entire album, a task I highly recommend following through on.  The songs are a bunch of fun to play, and they're not terribly challenging for anyone with the barest of uke skills.

While I think all of the songs could probably fit unchallenged as a cover on a kids' album, I thought I'd feature the leadoff track, "Everybody Gets a Kitten" because, you know, kittens. 

Jeremy Messersmith: "Everybody Gets a Kitten" [YouTube]

My Favorite (and the Best?) Kids Music of 2016

In past years, I have written a lot about my favorite kids music over the prior year -- here's my summary of the best kids music of 2015 -- but the past year or so has been more challenging for me in terms of writing reviews of kids music.  That doesn't mean that I still haven't been listening to a lot of kids music, just that I haven't felt compelled to share my thoughts about it as much.

I did, of course, submit my votes for the annual Fids and Kamily Awards I co-coordinate, and sadly I've never actually listed my albums here.  You can read all about the 2016 Fids and Kamily Award winners here, but for posterity's sake I feel compelled to list my own ballot, even if the eligibility window closed on Sept. 30, 2016, several months ago.  (As you look at the list below, you'll note that I was not big into distinctions this year -- a lot of ties.)

A lot of my overall thoughts for the year match those of the prior year -- lots of great music, but a feeling that I wasn't introduced to as many new artists as I have in years past.  And the changing economics I discussed in my 2015 summary continue apace -- I believe it is increasingly more difficult for artists to make a musical living in this genre unless they diversify greatly and move beyond album sales and touring in purely entertainment settings.  When everything is available on Spotify, you have to find your tribe, and I'm not sure if Spotify (and streaming generally) helps or hurts in that regard.

In any case, this is late enough as it is, so enough of my yappin', let's boogie!

1.  Explorer of the World - Frances England

2.  Why? - They Might Be Giants

3. (tie)  Are You Listening? - The Not-Its

3. (tie)  Phineas McBoof Crashes the Symphony - Doctor Noize

5. (tie) Infinity Plus One - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

5. (tie) Music Is Everywhere - Mista Cookie Jar

5. (tie) Ear Snacks: Songs from the Podcast - Andrew & Polly

5. (tie) Mi Viaje: De Nuevo León to the New York Island - Sonia De Los Santos

5. (tie) Wake Up and Sing - Red Yarn

5. (tie) Owl Singalong - Raffi