In Tempo with…Joanie Leeds

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, there is no better way to celebrate than with All The Ladies, the latest album from Joanie Leeds. Along with her band the Nightlights, Joanie made a name for herself on the kindie pop/rock scene with albums like Brooklyn Baby! and I’m a Rock Star. Filled with catchy lyrics and rhythms to get kids moving, Leeds’s music was surefire fun for the whole family. On All The Ladies, Joanie changes things up and takes her music in a new, welcome direction. The most obvious change is that, in a real departure from previous albums, on All The Ladies, Joanie performs without the Nightlights. But that doesn’t mean that she performs alone. Instead, she has gathered a whole crew of incredibly talented women from the children’s music industry to join her in making music to empower girls of all ages.

From the opening track, “If Girls Ruled the World” to the albums beautiful closer, “Half Of The World,” you still get that upbeat Joanie style, but with a more folk-pop twist. All The Ladies features songs about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, breaking the glass ceiling, the importance of lifting one another up and glorious Mother Earth. The messages in Ladies are clear and easy to grasp, but never didactic. Each song is filled with gorgeous harmonies that quickly become the hallmark of the album.

In order to learn more about the origins of this female-driven project (*from Joanie, “99% of the participants in All the Ladies – instrumental, vocal and all of the technical jobs including Producer, Engineer, Mixer, Master- even my photographer and graphic artist are women! “), I went right to the source. Even though Joanie is in the middle of preparing for Friday’s big music festival (more on that a bit later), she was kind enough to answer a few questions.

You collaborated with a lot of amazing women on All the Ladies. How did these partnerships come about? 
I knew that I wanted to work with all women on this project and it was important to me to utilize their incredible talents and lift them up. I had a very long list- one person being the amazing Lucy Kalantari. Once she was signed on as producer, we worked together to create a list and assigned everyone to the songs, taking into account with regional logistics (who has remote studio capabilities etc.) We didn’t get to use everyone but we did get a bunch of incredibly talented women involved and I am so happy with the outcome! {Ed. Note: That list of women who are part of the album includes Polly Hall, Suzi Shelton, Sonia De Los Santos, Lori Henriques, Lisa Loeb and Carly Ciarrocchi.]

You return to your folk music roots on this album. What prompted you to move in that direction?

After 10 years of singing with my band Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights, I wanted to switch things up and rebrand. I had a new logo created and am in the middle or redoing my website. I took a step back and realized, I’m not in my 20s anymore and while I love singing rock and pop (and still do) I have always loved just sitting behind a guitar and strumming along, it felt natural to return to my roots. 

When I was a teen I loved reading about fierce, strong, caring females with unbreakable spirits. I get that same feeling of empowerment from the music in your new collection. What advice do you have for the girls and young women of today?

Something I wish I could have known when I was younger was to be more confident and love myself more. With self-love, girls and women will automatically feel the confidence to raise their hand in class, put themselves into the room, be part of the conversation and speak out against injustice. If we come together as women and lift each other up and have each other‘s backs, the climate for inequality will surely diminish. Between the media and living in a patriarchy we are up against a lot- but together, I believe we can accomplish anything.

That we can! All The Ladies the album is set to be released this Friday, April 3. But that’s not all that is happening on Friday! From 12:30-4:00 pm, fans of children’s music can see some of the top female artists perform as part of the FREE Joanie Leeds Presents: All The Ladies Online Music Festival!  When asked about the origin of such a large undertaking, Joanie said, “All the Ladies album launch concert was supposed to be held on March 14th but was canceled due to the corona virus pandemic. It was to be a large gathering featuring many of the women from my album. One of the women who was supposed to perform (Tina Kenny Jones) dm’ed me upon cancelation about the idea of holding the concert online instead. I took the idea and ran with it, producing my first online Music Festival! All the Ladies Music Festival will be held this Friday from 12:30-4pm featuring every singer on the album. They will each play for 15 minutes and then as hostess, I will pass the baton to the next performer. You can attend for free on Facebook: @alltheladiesmusicfestival.”

 

In Tempo with…Johnette Downing

“In Tempo With…” is a new feature that will be popping up on Kids Rhythm and Rock from time to time. It highlights a children’s performer and includes a short Q & A. As we reach the culmination of Mardi Gras, it is my pleasure to spotlight Johnette Downing and her Cajun celebration, Swamp Romp.

Downing is a prolific author and entertainer with almost two dozen picture books and a dozen albums to her credit. A New Orleans native, the folklore and culture of Louisiana is reflected in many of her books and lyrics. Downing’s latest family music album, Swamp Romp, is a collaboration with GRAMMY Award winner Scott Billington. The fifteen original songs in this collection grow from Cajun roots, featuring lots of brass and percussion and rhythms that beg for you to clap and tap along. Many of the tunes like “Mudbug Boogie,” “Bamboula Rhythm,” and “Get Ready, Get Set, Let’s Groove” are designed to get children up and moving and would be great fun to use in a storytime setting or for a Mardi Gras celebration. The chant-like song, “Mississippi River” will have children spelling Mississippi and jamming along in no time. While the entire album embraces Louisiana roots music, several of the songs such as “Who Got the Baby in the King Cake?” “How to Dress a Po’ Boy” and “Crawfish Étouffée” really place listeners in the heart of New Orleans life. Want to learn more about these engaging, entertaining tunes? Don’t miss the detailed liner notes which include background information on each song’s origins as well as some of the album’s guest performers.

Johnette Downing recently took some time to answer a few questions.

Swamp Romp is a celebration of Louisiana roots music featuring a wide variety of instruments, rhythms and subject matters. When you’re writing songs, which comes first – the music or the lyrics?
When writing songs, there is no set method for me. The muse sometimes delivers the lyrics first while other times the melody. For example, Scott and I try to walk three to five miles per day. On one of our walks, I just started singing, out of the clear blue, “When you walk down the street, you can feel it in your feet. It’s the bam-bam-bam-boula rhy-thm.” The beat of the words I sang, “bam-bam-bam-bou-la,” is the exact rhythm of the underlying beat of much of New Orleans music. We stopped immediately and recorded the song on a four-track app we have on our phones. We have this recording app on our phones for this express purpose of capturing melodies or lyrics when they come because you just never know when that spark will fire.

What is your favorite Mardi Gras tradition?
My favorite Mardi Gras tradition is the king cake party. At king cake parties, children (and grown-ups) enjoy slices of this braided pastry, but this is not just any cake. There is a lucky plastic king cake baby hidden inside the cake! Whoever finds the king cake baby in his or her slice of king cake is unofficially crowned king or queen for the day, and is required to host the next king cake party. This tradition ensures that the celebration continues throughout Carnival season. Partygoers will ask, “who got the baby in the king cake,” because they want to know where the next party will take place.

If you could only eat one meal in New Orleans, what would it be?
If I could only eat one meal in New Orleans, it would be charbroiled oysters from Drago’s Restaurant, where I believe the dish was invented. They grill the oysters over an open flame and dress them with butter, garlic, pepper Parmagiano and Romano cheeses. De-lish!

Finish this sentence: Children’s music is…
For me, children’s music is a celebration of childhood. It is vehicle for inspiring children to think, laugh, dance, sing, clap, question, inquire, move, create, express, bond, and learn. In many ways, music is at the very core of being human. It is our heartbeat, our breath, our connection, our comfort and our joy.

**For a taste of Mardi Gras New Orleans style, take a peek at the video for “Bamboula Rhythm” from Swamp Romp. Laissez les bons temps rouler!