One of the many great things about children’s music is how it can make learning fun. Sometimes it’s little things like ABCs or counting to 10, but other times, it’s bigger things, like scientific concepts. Over the next two album spotlights, I’m focusing on amazing albums that take science and make it fun. First up is the water-themed album, Aqua Phonic, from Marko Polo. In his second album for families, Marko Polo, aka Mark Pagano, a teaching artist based in St. Louis, takes listeners from the smallest drop of water to the greatest oceans of the world.
The eight tracks in this collection are equal parts informative and entertaining with each having a tone that perfectly matches with the song’s subject matter. The album opens with “We Are Water,” teaching children the properties and science of water before digging into some of the inhabitants of this incredible resource. This is followed by the rock-tinged “Axolotl” a tune crafted by Pagano and a group of middle schoolers about the oddly adorable amphibian before turning to a reggae-infused beat to tell the tale of the “Sirenia,” the manatees who were mistaken for mermaids. This is followed by the psychedelic world of the “Coral” before introducing everyone to “Walrus Sings,” a pop tune based on an article from National Geographic.
Along with the animals, Pagano also focuses on water as place. He takes listeners to the deepest depths where everything glows at the “Bottom of the Ocean” before taking them back into the light with “Follow the Water.” This lovely duet with New Zealander Claudia Robin Gunn features a melody and lyrics that eddies and flows just like the current of the water. The album closes with the beautiful, “Drip Drop.” This final track, so skillfully designed, aptly details the water cycle while also speaking to the experience of parents and caregivers – “Time keeps moving like a river/Feels like it’s going quicker as I watch you grow.”
Pagano’s mastery as a songwriter is clear throughout the album as he elevates each tune, sharing facts while setting scenes and telling stories. He is occasionally joined by guest vocalists, but it is his voice that remains front and center, often reminiscent of the vocal stylings of Justin Roberts. Aqua Phonic would be a great addition to science units or family playlists.
The 24th AnnualLatin GRAMMY Awards will be held on Thursday, November 16, in Seville, Spain. In preparation for the big night, take a listen to the five Spanish language albums that were nominated this week in the Best Latin Children’s Album category.
Hip hop as a genre within children’s music has been steadily growing over the last few years with artists like SaulPaul, Fyütch, and GRAMMY-winners Alphabet Rockers leading the way. A new voice arrived on the scene this week – Mega Ran. Born in Philadelphia and now living in Phoenix, Raheem “Mega Ran” Jarbo has been making a name for himself over the past 15 years as a nerdcore rapper, often rooting his music in beats from video games and crafting lyrics built around the world of wrestling. This month he debuted his first album for children, Buddy’s Magic Toy Box.
From the first beat of Buddy’s Magic Toy Box, listeners are drawn into a world of affirmation, inclusion, and joy. Being new to children’s music, Mega Ran takes what he does best – be an entertainer and storyteller, and perfectly adapts that to a new, younger audience. Each song is carefully crafted, marrying lyrics with the talents of special guests and surprising musical genres like ska-punk, jazz, and R&B. The album opens with “Count Me In” an ode to the classic “Pinball Number Count” by the Pointer Sisters (which if you’re of an age, like me, you can still sing from memory). Not only does “Count Me In” teach listeners to count to ten in English and Spanish, but it also includes easy to follow rhymes and backing vocals by a group of children layered over an electronic beat. Over the course of the next eleven songs, Mega Ran tackles topics such as bullying and friendship and includes a kid-accessible history of hip hop. On the earworm, “That’s Okay (feat. Kadesh Flow),” he addresses the experiences of people of color or other folks who have hard to pronounce names, and in the very powerful “Big and Scary,” Mega Ran faces head-on the painful struggles that occur when you are a kid who has a body type different than those around you. [For a similar perspective from a young girl’s point of view, pick up Vashti Harrison’s picture bookBig.] The album is rounded out by the gentle flow of the end-of-day lullaby, “Goodnight, Baby.” Buddy’s Magic Toy Box is available on your favorite streaming services and is not to be missed!
Learn more about Mega Ran and his new album below.
What was the transition like for you moving from making music geared more toward adults to making music for kids?
It wasn’t as hard as I’d thought. I spent a ton of days just brainstorming before I started. I was really in my own way – overthinking the process when it wasn’t too different than writing the songs I had done prior. I just wanted to focus on making sure the message was clear and concise, and that the choruses were bright and fun.
Several of your songs are rooted in your own experiences. Why was it important to you to use those personal memories in creating this album?
I’ve had the biggest experience in my adult life that inspired this record – fostering and then later adopting my first son. It’s been a life changing moment and has changed the direction of not only my music, but has me thinking about my legacy and what I bring to the art form and culture. It’s led to a really fun transition that I think will be a part of me forever.
You are known for making video game/nerdcore hip hop. What advice would you give to kids who struggle because they are nerds or have interests outside of the so-called mainstream?
I don’t think the nerds struggle is nearly as tough today as it was a few decades ago. Kids are pretty free to be themselves these days without too much pushback from society, but I’m sure there are bullies and haters everywhere. So, for kids who like things that are a little outside the norm, I’d say to embrace that difference and be yourself. It’s so much more fun standing out than fitting in.
Kids love reading the Guiness Book of World Records. You’re in the Guiness Book for having the most songs that reference a video game. Was getting the world record a goal that you had for yourself? What’s it like to be a Guiness Book of World Records holder?
It’s insane! I’ve read those books when I was young and to be in one is an absolute dream come true. I’m thankful for Guinness for recognizing my strange world and my contributions. I got an opportunity to travel to London and go to the Guinness offices, where I played songs and received a plaque with my name on it. An absolute perfect scenario, a wish fulfilled. I’ll never forget it.
Buddy’s Magic Toy Box contains such great messages and is so entertaining. Will there be more children’s music in your future?
Absolutely! I have a ton of other concepts in mind! I’ll see how things go but I absolutely see myself creating more children’s music. My producers have sent a ton of beats over that have inspired me in new ways. So I’ll do it as long as I’m inspired!
Anything else that you would like to share with us?
John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize Winner Kelli Welli (aka Kelli Caldwell) returns with Baby Ninja, her fourth album for families. Kelli’s unique style of mixing genres – a little country here, some rock and pop there, and a sprinkle of punk added in for good measure – is what makes this album stand out. Things kick off with the title song, “Baby Ninja,” a rollicking tale of the speed and stealth of a toddler before mixing in over-the-top fun with songs like “Skunk in a Handstand.” While the music is often bold, Kelli’s songwriting skills are brilliantly on display with lyrics that are loving and supportive on songs such as “Superstar” and “I Put My Heart Into” which describes making things like bread, a quilt and a rocking horse with love. In other instances, children feel empowered when Uncle Jumbo joins Kelli on “You’re a Sunny Day” and as she celebrates the strength of young ones in “Hey Little Hero.” The lively album ends on an unexpectedly quiet note with “Frère Jacques in Five,” a rendition of the traditional tune sung in five different languages.
The fun doesn’t end with the album though. Kelli, along with illustrator Belén Toscano, has created a 40-page graphic novel based on the title track. The album cover for Baby Ninja provides an excellent example of just what spirited mayhem to expect.
Below is the video for the track, “Water Baby.” Kelli says of the song and the video, “I’ve always struggled with fear in water, so I wrote this song to express the awe and happiness I’ve felt watching my kids‘ enjoyment in the water. My daughter, especially, was born a water baby. And I’m so grateful for all my cool friends who came out to celebrate their water babies in this video … and reveal their hidden synchronized swimming talents!” Enjoy!
I love discovering “new-to-me” artists. Often they are like wrapped gifts – you don’t know what’s inside, but you’re excited to open it and find out. That’s how I felt about Sing Along Tim and his new album, Brand New World of Pants. Even though this is Toronto-based Tim Machin’s third studio family music album, this was my introduction to his music. Right away I was intrigued by the album’s name – Brand New World of Pants and fun artwork. Was this going to be a pop album? A collection of silly songs? Is it for preschoolers? Grade school aged kids?
Well, it turns out the answers to those questions are no, some, yes, and yes! Brand New World of Pants is a collection of nine folk rock tracks that cover an eclectic array of subjects including the need to save the trees, the first snowfall, the kinds of shoes you wear throughout the year (running shoes, sandals, snow boots), a typically indecisive cat, and how important it is to just “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Each song has its own flair, but the overall sound is like something straight out of the 1960’s – evoking the feelings of a groovy dance party on the opening track, “The Turnaround,” featuring a frenetic beat on the title track, and a flute solo in the closing song, “When You Are Asleep.”
With engaging lyrics and unique melodies, Brand New World of Pants will appeal to the whole family and entertain children of all ages. Check it out for yourself. Below is the delightful video for “The Turnaround.”
Kymberly Stewart is back with her latest album for children, Everybody Needs a Little Sunshine. While Stewart showed her fun and entertaining side on her last outing Giggles and Curls, this time around, she also infuses every single note with a delightful dose of joy. Stewart sets the tone with the title track, a glorious celebration of the little things that everyone needs in their lives – sunshine, happiness, and rainbows. From there she takes listeners on a tour of musical genres, smoothly switching from gospel to Doo Wop to R&B. Several songs are made to use in storytime or the classroom, including the dance parties “Rock and Roll with You” and “On the Playground.” Stewart’s bold, rich voice, often reminiscent of a young Diana Ross, is the key to conveying lyrics filled with messages of love, kindness, and unity, while still maintaining an aura of bright energy and fun. Everybody Needs a Little Sunshine closes with the perfect bookend to the title track – the showstopper, “We All Live Together” which leaves listeners with the reminder that, “we all live together in this great big beautiful world.”
Refresh your storytimes with the slow-fast crowd pleaser “Little Hip Hop Bunnies.” Check out the video below.
Did you know that there is an annual conference just for those with a passion for children’s music? Whether you are a performer, librarian, teacher, radio host, or PR person, the Children’s Music Network (CMN) Conference is the place to be. Following a three year hiatus of in-person gatherings due to the pandemic and its aftereffects, the conference is returning in a brand new hybrid format and it is my honor to be co-chairing this amazing event along with the incredible Stacey Peasley.
Beginning Sunday, October 29 attendees can enjoy a variety of virtual workshops, song swaps, and affinity groups. Then, on November 3, the fun will continue in-person in Boston. Highlights include – 8 top-of-the-line workshops, 4 song swaps, 1 round robin, and a Keynote Presentation by GRAMMY-winners Alphabet Rockers.
There are a variety of ways to participate. Attendees can register for just the virtual conference, for the in-person conference, or the conference as a whole. However you choose to attend, friendship, fun, and lots and lots of music are guaranteed. Register today and let’s make history!
We are thisclose to the beginning of August already and many families that I know are beginning to experience the summer slump. That time of year when most of the fun activities that you’d been looking forward to all winter are now over and the rush to get ready for school has begun. Stir into that mix some really unpleasant temperatures, and all anyone wants to do is hang out inside and chill. That’s where Mr. Evan V & the Jumping Jams Band‘s video “Let Us Rock!” comes in.
Featuring Mr. Evan V and an electric guitar driven melody, “Let Us Rock!” showcases children dancing and moving around outdoors to a rocking beat and lyrics that encourage listeners to, “Let us rock and shake all of your blues away.” Viewers will be hard-pressed to ignore the energy and excitement of “Let Us Rock!” and will soon find themselves clapping and dancing along.
There is a real versatility to Mr. Evan V’s music. Check out his YouTube page for more videos including his latest, “Swimming in the Water,” which is a gentle, animated delight.
Forty-five years ago, politician and activist Harvey Milk asked artist Gilbert Baker to create a symbol of gay pride. The result was the original gay pride rainbow flag. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the colors of what is known as the Gilbert Baker Pride flag represent different aspects of the LGBTQ+ community – “hot pink represents sex, red symbolizes life, orange stands for healing, yellow equals sunlight, green stands for nature, turquoise symbolizes magic and art, indigo represents serenity, while violet symbolizes the spirit of LGBTQ+ people.” Shortly following the creation of the flag, the hot pink and turquoise stripes were removed. The traditional pride flag as we know it continues to be a representation of the LGBTQ+ community, but also serves as a reminder to all of us that we need to celebrate and love those around us not just during the month of June, but all year long.
“Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk” is the first single off the upcoming Smithsonian Folkways album Mr. Greg and Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children. While this is the first children’s album for singer-songwriter Cass McCombs and preschool teacher Greg Gardner, they have been collaborating since they were teens in the Bay Area. That history together is evident in the smart, well-crafted melody and lyrics of this debut song. Featuring animation of illustrations created by Gardner and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus lending their vocal might, “Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk” is a song that everyone should hear. For more information on the creation of the Pride flag, pair this video with the picture book,Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno.
Hurray! The first official day of summer is finally here!! As adults we sometimes get bogged down in the details of grown-up life, bemoaning the fact that it’s hot, the energy bill is going to go up, the lawn needs to be mowed (again), etc. and we forgot about the simple joys that come with the lazy, hazy days of summer. Luckily, Dana’s Music Playground is here to remind us of just how great it is to be a kid this time of year. “Bring on Summer” captures all the colorful excitement and joy of the season, and celebrates with sunshine, bike rides, hikes, s’mores and more! Check out the video below.