Interview: Chat with Raul Pacheco (Ozomatli & OzoKidz)

For 18 years Ozomatli has made quite an impact on the world, gaining much notoriety for their outspoken and passionate political views. Starting from the Peace and Justice Center in Los Angeles, where they began jamming together, the band was quickly recognized and in 2007 they were invited by the U.S. State Department to serve as official Cultural Ambassadors on a series of government-sponsored international tours to Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Additionally, in 2010 the City of Los Angeles officially made April 23rd “Ozomatli Day,” based upon the band’s efforts for and in support of the city.

Throughout their career, Ozomatli has primarily been blasting out hits for adults and has accumulated quite a fan base over the years. However, about a year ago they decided to put their artistic efforts into creating a full length kids album under the moniker of OzoKidz. Ozokidz still contains the signature cacophony of sound that is part of what makes Ozomatli so thrilling to listen to. You can’t help but be drawn into a dance-induced stupor while moving your body to the hypnotic sounds produced by the 7-piece band.

The careful construction and work put into the album is impressive. Many of the songs contain lyrics aimed at educating kids and prompting intellectual conversations about things like photosynthesis, germs, spelling and planets. It’s been such a pleasure enjoying music with my daughter by a band I have been a fan of for many years. It’s pretty wacky that a band I used to listen to in my “youth” is now making music for an even younger generation. This is a beautiful thing, sure to benefit kids for years to come. Listening to OzoKidz is like listening to a non-stop musical party.

I am pleased to present a conversation I had with Raul Pacheco (Electric guitar, Tres, Jarana, Lead vocals, Background vocals) about the record.

See below for details on where to pre-order your copy of OzoKidz, a sample clip and download for “Balloon Fest” and some information on getting a super special OzoKidz chalk box!


KCG
: On the OzoKidz album what song(s) is your voice most prominent on?
Raul: “Balloon Fest” and “Sun and Moon” is me. I also sing the chorus on “Let’s Go To The Movies.”

KCG: Were you guys thinking of targeting a specific age range for OzoKidz?
Raul: I think…under 10. I mean, I think we were really thinking something meaningful like that. Appealing to bodies that are not afraid to act silly, kinda vibe.

KCG: Older kids are probably either listening to Ozomatli or influenced by peers or songs on the radio.
Raul: Yep, definitely.

KCG: I was watching the Summit 11 video that you guys did and some questions relating to OzoKidz popped up for me. You guys have always had an active voice in politics. With regard to OzoKidz, it’s juvenile, very light-hearted and exciting. It seems to really appeal to kids in your targeted age range. Have you thought about supporting causes for kids as OzoKidz?
Raul: Definitely. We have before and we’ll probably continue to do that. Regardless of this CD I mean we’re always doin’ stuff for young people. We support alot of music in our programs in Los Angeles and also in other parts of the country.

KCG: What about things like bullying or guns? Now that you’re doing kids’ albums, is there something that you would think about in terms of representing through song, with regard to bullying or guns or acceptance in terms of cultural or ethnic diversity?
Ra: I think we’d be all for it. When making this music, we weren’t specifically thinking about what causes we would get into. I think we were thinking about making kids music. I think we have a reputation of supporting kind of proactive organizations, highlighting issues that are important to us. I don’t think that would change and I think that this does offer another opportunity for that. But, we haven’t done anything specifically in regards to this CD.

KCG: In your opinion, what is kids music?
Raul: I think it’s music that has kind of a more innocent, lighter, celebratory tone. That’s not every kids life, but I think with the music we were trying to make, it was really about introduction to some ideas that we talk about in the songs. Some ideas of nature, some ideas of conservation, some ideas of health. And some of it’s also just things that resonate with young people. Certain things they can be involved in or like. So when you say what is kids music, to us I think it’s a sound. There’s a traditional kids’ market — which we found out about as we were doing this. We wanted to make it a little more detailed. Essentially we just didn’t want it to be for kids. We wanted parents to enjoy it with their children.

KCG: I think you accomplished that, definitely.

KCG: How long did it take you guys to write the OzoKidz album once you realized it was an idea you’d like to pursue?
Raul: I mean it took us a long time because we were doing it while we were doing other things. So, I think over a year. Around the period of the year…we would work on it alot for a few months, leave it alone and then we’d get back to it. I think it always takes a bit longer to make recordings because we’re always working. So yeah, it happened over a year.

KCG: You guys have done work in an orphanage and for blind kids. During the time that you have done things abroad in the presence of children, had it occurred to you to do something like OzoKidz?
Raul: No, I think it was just an idea that came out of our own, ya know, the passing of time. We’ve been around for 18 years so we ourselves have children and alot of our fans have children. And it kept coming up for people. So it was like “oh well would we even venture to do this?” I think when the idea first came up, people weren’t necessarily into it. But as we thought about it a little bit more people thought is this something that we can pull off and have it be cool and not have it be corny, and could we separate OzoKidz as its own entity away from Ozomatli enough so they don’t overlap. We don’t want them overlapping. We really want a distinct experience with the music and the shows. They’re very different in what they’re geared toward. Once we got over the idea that just because it was a little different or whatever fears we might of had about it being corny, or whatever, we were able to dig in and really make a solid kids album. Like if we were going to do it, let’s make a really good one and we feel pretty proud about it, actually.

KCG: You guys did a really nice job with it. You stayed true to the Ozomatli sound. But then listening to the words I was struck by how detailed you get in the songs. You actually drop some science in some of the songs.
Raul: Yeah!

KCG: Clearly you thought out some of the songs like Germs and Trees and even Sun and Moon. The Tree Song is definitely like wow, you know you go from the seed and even mention photosynthesis. That to me was a nice surprise. And then there’s “Germs” which my daughter seems to be really concerned about these days, especially when it comes to brushing her teeth. Let’s start with “Germs” in particular. You guys go through germs in your body, you go through bacteria in medicine, and you really get deep into the details of it all. How did that come about? Did you do research?

Raul: What was really helpful in that is that we had done these kid songs for PBS Kids first. And they were super adamant about the lyrics. We had to keep it simple but creative, informative. I mean they’re really coming from an educational perspective. And these guys have been doing it for years. It’s their careers, they make kids media for PBS. And PBS has to have a little bit more of an educational purpose in it. So, from that experience we really took that and put that into some of these songs. Like, how to really make a list of things and really put them in a way that was clever but not too petty; enough information where you’re being challenged but not too much information where you’re just overwhelmed. So I think with a few of those we did a pretty good job of really having that balance so that anybody listening to the song can have some kind of relationship to it. If it’s the kid, if it’s their parent. It could be a conversation piece. And musically, they’re all different styles and so there could even be a conversation piece about that. But I think it’s like getting young people to have discussions about it and young people with older people, ya know, who are their teachers or who are their parents can kind of be able to have this shared experience on this music and on these subjects. So I think this experience before of writing songs for PBS in hindsight, was really helpful.

KCG: Typically with Ozomatli there is alot of Spanish. With the OzoKidz album there is some Spanish weaved into certain songs and then there’s Changito. Did you think about balancing Spanish and English for this album?
Raul: Yeah we did, we thought about it. There were some Spanish songs that didn’t make it in the final cut, because I just think that those songs weren’t as good. And I don’t think it has anything to do with the language. It’s just those particular songs were not as well rounded and they just weren’t as good songs. For me, I wish there were more but it’s not the way it came out and, at some point, we just let it go.

KCG: How many people contributed to the writing process on this album?
Raul: Ya know, I think it’s the same way for all of us. Some songs are all of us, some songs are just a few of us. It’s never really like either or. Sometimes it might be one person really spearheading it. Sometimes it’s everyone taking a piece and contributing. It really varies.

KCG: Does the music come first and then the words? Is there a method to the writing?
Raul: There’s no method. I prefer that. There’s no method. Just whatever comes out. We start to gravitate towards what moves everybody.

KCG: Do you have a personal favorite on the album?
Raul: I guess like with all our music, I go through phases. So, on this one…I think the ones you mentioned, “Trees” and “Germs.” I like to play “Germs,” it’s fun. And even though I sing “Balloon Fest,” that was alot of fun to play too. They’re funny, ya know? When you’re singing with these little kids, they’re just staring up at you wondering like “what’s all going down.”

KCG: But it’s so authentic. Kids are pretty honest and you can tell right away if they’re getting into it.
Raul: You have to be better at reading. Cause they get bored quick. When you perform, it’s like you have to be really engaged with them. Our shows are not more than 40 minutes long. But overall the shows are alot of fun.

KCG: I can tell you that my daughter loves Moose on the Loose. When we got the album, she was dancing so hard that I think we only got as far as “Exercise” before she had to stop dancing because she was sweating and exhausted. There is just no other way to enjoy OzoKidz. When you put the album on, it’s nothing but a party. You’re just gonna dance and move your body and get into it.

KCG: Were you influenced by other kindie bands or had you done any research into what other kids’ musicians were doing?
Raul: I think we did it more like finding out if this was even viable for us to do. And then our manager researched it and said “yeah, there was a whole bunch of people doing this.” And we heard some music just to kinda get an idea and then I think part of our own competitiveness was like “Oh we could do this, we could do a good job at this, actually.” When you’re around for as long as we are, we try to do some things that we’ve never done before. And this was alot of fun. I think one of the things is that there wasn’t as much pressure we would put on ourselves as we would with an adult Ozomatli record. So I think there is something that we definitely walked away with from this process that we’ll be bringing back into our own music.

KCG: Did you learn something about yourself that you hadn’t felt or noticed making adult records that you could take back to your work as Ozomatli?
Raul: I think that sometimes we have a constricted view of what we can be as a band. Part of that is practical because you don’t want to alienate the fans you already have. It’s like a business. Part of it is constricting though, also. My particular idea is that I always wanna do stuff different. I don’t particularly want to be bound by our history. But, you know, you are on certain levels. You know people expect something from you. And when you don’t do that, it’s like “oh they’re not the same band.” Well, I aways try to remind people we’ve never been the same band. Like whatever vision you have of us in your head, is really your own. Our first record is very different from the next one, which is very different from the next one, which is very different from the next ones, and so on and so on. We’re all the same people playing on them. I find my own artistic life more interesting to push those boundaries as much as possible. I mean we’re writing music now for an adult record which sounds very different from the ones we’ve done before, and it scares some people and some people really like it. So, who knows what it will be in the end. But, I as a musician, I prefer that. I prefer kinda going through these places that are different for us. And I think the kids record was actually that also. There were some of us that just didn’t wanna do this and it’s like “Why what is this about?” and they sit around and talk about it and you know, you kinda have discussions, then all of a sudden the group seemed to be open to it and then that’s cool. So it’s just another shift; it’s something new. And I think once you commit to doing it, there’s already good value. So overall, like I said, I’ve been really happy with it and people seemed to really like it, which ultimately is what is important.

KCG: Are there still more OzoKidz songs out there that didn’t make it to this album?
Raul: Yeah! Yeah, there are! You know when we write, we write a bunch of songs — and so I have a feeling we are going to do another one, I just don’t know when. But, I’m sure there’s gonna be some more songs coming out.

KCG: Do you think that you’ll play some of those at live shows?
Raul: We really separate these songs from our adult stuff. All the songs on that are on the CD we’ll play at the OzoKidz show, but you won’t hear some of those songs at one of our adult shows. That could always change, but that’s the way it is right now.

KCG: Did you test out OzoKidz on any kids before releasing it? Like your own kids, for example.
Raul: No. I mean there are some songs that we played at kids shows before the CD came out but no we just kinda went for it.

KCG: Do you happen to have a message to kids listening to this CD or anything that you want to say to your audience or their parents?
Raul: It’s really for the kids. Ya know, it’s just really for the kids. And I would say to turn it up really loud and dance all around your house.

KCG: And that’s what I would say as well.

KCG: “Sun and Moon” reminds me of a Yo Gabba Gabba song. Have you considered appearing on Yo Gabba Gabba or have you been asked to work with them?
Raul: We’ve played their live shows in California. We’ve been Super Music Friends on their live shows, which are huge, it’s crazy.

KCG: So, on a more personal level. Are you still dancing to the Jackson 5?
Raul: Oh yeah. I used to get money from the neighbors to show up at parties and then get down. I’d walk out with 5 bucks in quarters and then take it to the store.

KCG: Do you still do that?
Raul: Not for money. But I’d still do it. I heard Jackson 5 the other day. It was rockin’.

KCG: Jackson 5 is classic.
Raul: It’s good stuff.

KCG: Well, Raul, thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure and we look forward to the official release.
Raul: Thank you

OzoKidz is currently available for pre-order on iTunes and Amazon and will be officially released on September 25. You can also listen to digital samples from Amazon.

As a bonus, if you purchase the Ozokidz album at participating independent stores, you will receive a FREE Ozokidz chalk box that includes a link to the bonus track, “Vamos A Cantar.” What’s more exciting is that you’ll be able to participate in the Ozokidz Chalk art contests. All you have to do is recreate the Ozokidz album cover art on your driveway or sidewalk. For the bonus prize, you can create a visual representation of the bonus track “Vamos A Cantar,” using the Ozokidz chalk, send in photos of your artwork and they’ll pick the best ones. Winners will receive an Ozokidz prize pack! Send photos to ozofans@gmail.com. When sending photos, please include the Ozokidz chalk box in the photo. For a list of participating independent stores click here.

You can enjoy a sample download from the album called “Balloon Fest” below.

Sneak Preview: Blue Clouds – Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower

Elizabeth Mitchell is on a roll, just coming off of a tribute to Woody Guthrie, and now with an upcoming release in October called “Blue Clouds.”

“Blue Clouds” is another Smithsonian Folkways release and it is sure to be yet another beautifully arranged album.  With some originals, renditions of traditional songs and covers from David Bowie, Van Morrison and even Jimi Hendrix I’d say we’re in for a treat.

Below is a sneak preview of a few songs from the album, which includes the Bowie cover “Kooks”, a rendition of “Froggie Went-A-Courtin” and the title track “Blue Clouds,” a lullaby written by Daniel Littleton (Mitchell’s husband) for their daughter Storey when she was 3 years old.

Sneak Preview – Listen to Selections from Blue Clouds

View This: “Bikeride” – Vered

“Bikeride” is a sweet little video from Vered‘s album “Good Morning My Love.”  It was this album that won Vered the 2012 Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning CD.  A remastered version of “Good Morning My Love” will be released this October.

Beyond being a composer, performer and mother of two young sons,Vered is a music therapist who has pursued advanced studies in clinical psychology and has put her extensive training to good use, leading more than fifty parent/baby workshops each year. For ten years she devoted days to her studies and clinical practice, while singing by night.  Her beautiful voice has been compared to Norah Jones.

Vered’s main goal is to give parents tools to use music in order to connect and communicate better with their baby. She aims to help parents become aware of the use of rhythm and its benefits, certain vowel sounds and vibrations, the use of music to establish routine, to play, and to soothe.

In her own words:

“I am a music therapist with an MA in music therapy from NYU and then I went on to study clinical psychology at City College in NY where I got my MA. My BA isalso from NYU in music and philosophy. I am particularly interested in merging theory from music therapy with theory from attachment research. My main goal is to give parents tools to use music in order to connect and communicate better with their baby. I help parents become aware of the use of rhythm and its benefits, certain vowel sounds and vibrations, the use of music to establish routine, to play, and to soothe.

Music therapy teaches how to use music to communicate in a way that bypasses intellect, and that originates in different parts of our brain than language. Attachment research teaches the benefits of consistency, attentiveness and engagement for a healthy relationship between parent and baby and the healthy development of the baby. My goal is to bridge the two disciplines.”

We introduced music to Em in her infancy and she would kick and squawk and coo with certain changes in inflection or tone in a song.  Even when we read “Brown Bear Brown Bear” by Eric Carle we noticed that she would anticipate the next part simply because of the repetition and rhythm of the story, as well as, the pitch and tonal changes in our voices.

In her video for “Bikeride” you will see just how enjoyable music and movement can be for both mom and baby.  It’s a delight to watch Vered and her baby going through the physical motions of pedaling and a swimming in this video.  It’s sure to bring delight to new parents.  Even my 3.5 year old gets a kick out of playing this game.  And the fact that she can sing along with me now makes it even sweeter.

Enjoy!

 

View This: “Animal Alphabet” – Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

“Animal Alphabet” from Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke presents a beautifully illustrated video with all original artwork done by Key Wilde. Once you get past longing for a giant poster of it all, you realize how punk the song is. It rocks and I love the literary approach they take in describing each animal. Although there are many renditions of the alphabet song out there, none have an “…unusual unicorn in his underwear.”  I like how the children chime in at the end of the song singing the alphabet in reverse which is always a fun game to play (even as a grown-up).  After listening to this song, you can be sure your kids will learn their letters with a smile!  Kids 0-4 should get a kick out of this artistically arranged animal alphabet adventure.

You can learn more about Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke at the Little Monster Records site.

Enjoy!

[Courtesy of YouTube]

View This: “Five Little Monkeys” – Story Laurie

“Five Little Monkeys” is a song from Story Laurie’s most recent album, “Groovin’ In the Garden.” The video portrays Laurie’s take on the classic, beloved tale of those silly little monkeys. The video has the same elements as the book, except in this version the Mama is wearing funky striped socks. Jazzy sounds along with a special appearance by Dean Jones from Dog On Fleas who can be seen helping a monkey play the cuica, as well as, playing a little whistle solo himself make both the video and the song more fun than a barrel of well…you know…

Now that I’ve seen this video I think I’ll go have a little jump on the bed as well. Who says Mamas can’t have fun, too?

Enjoy!
Video Courtesy of [YouTube]

Check This Out: The Harmonica Pocket – Apple Apple

Fall is approaching and that means beautiful colors, cozy sweaters and delicious apples. What better way to celebrate the upcoming season than with a new release from The Harmonica Pocket.

Apple Apple, the third children’s release from The Harmonica Pocket, is a melodic dream. The eloquence with which the words and instrumentation flow throughout the album leave you feeling like someone just whispered a gentle lullaby in your ear. It’s very sweet and the stories these songs tell contain simple words and familiar concepts which the wee ones should easily identify with.

The Harmonica Pocket is primarily made up of Keeth Apgar (main vocals, master songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) but also features a regular group of folks, one of which includes partner, Nala Walla, who delivers rich harmonic vocals throughout the album, as well as, fellow Seattle-based Kindiependent artists such as Johnny Bregar (banjo), Jack Foreman from Recess Monkey (bass throughout) and Caspar Babypants (vocals). The recording of this album, as well as their previous albums, took place in a solar powered studio on a tiny island in Puget Sound, Washington.

Many of the songs on Apple Apple are like poems, with each line complementing the one before it. What I particularly love about the album is how it plays with linguistics, character development and timing. The songs are multi-dimensional, containing carefully paired lyrical and musical melodies. The instruments in many of these songs are just as important as the words, often times acting as another voice with the pluck of a chord or the warm, rich tone of the saxophone at just the right time. They even serve to heighten a climatic moment within a song just by a change in time signature. A great example of this is in “Afraid of Heights,” a beautiful song about a bird who comes out of its shell and is afraid to fly. The song starts in 4/4 time and makes a transition to 3/4 time when the bird sees the sky, faces its fears and flies. It’s this simple change that evokes a feeling of exhileration that comes from overcoming your fears, just as the little bird did.

The sentiment behind Apple Apple is somewhat different than the previous, highly acclaimed “Ladybug One” as both Keeth and Nala have become parents. As a result, several of the songs, i.e. “Diaperman,” “Monkey Love,” “Reflections” and “Little Baby,” to name a few, are inspired by this new development. The songs carry a calming, chilled out vibe with some notes of folk, jazz, pop and even some reggae.

Conceptually, there is also this notion of experiencing life “naturally” and having that be the driving force behind the creative process. A great example of this is the smooth, jazzy little song “Bare Feet,” which was inspired by Apgar’s personal experience with climbing trees as a child (and somewhat occasionally as an adult). The song describes kicking off your shoes, climbing a tree with bare feet and observing the feeling of the bark, the wind blowing, as well as, looking with wonder at the birds and the leaves on the trees. I love the lyrics “Kick off my shoes/Pull myself up by my own hands/A breeze blows through/Everything moves and we slow dance/Above me only clear blue sky/So good to be outside/I forget sometimes/That I need to play/Everyday/…And all I need are my bare feet/climbing up to the top of this apple tree.”

In addition to apples, the album covers a variety of topics. There is counting in “I’m Gonna Count” which invites listeners to count stones on the beach by single digits (1, 2, 3), leaves on the trees by even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8) and stars in the sky by 5’s (5, 10, 15, 20…) and syllabic playfulness in the title track “Apple Apple” where each word is broken up and sung with one syllable. It’s a great game to play with the actual lyrics of the song, but also in making up your own words. It’s always good for a few laughs.

Em particularly gets a kick out of the baby tooting in “Little Baby” and laughs with a slight squeal after waiting for it. She knows it’s coming and waits in anticipation with a smile, repeating “just wait, it’s comin’ up, it’s comin’ up, the baby’s gonna toot!” until she hears it.

Other notable songs include one of our favorites “Monkey Love,” features Caspar Babypants as Monkey two. The song basically uses the word Monkey repetitiously to tell the tale of three monkeys who come together and become a family. “Monkey one Monkey two Monkey three/Monkey me Monkey he Monkey she/ Monkey love Monkey we Monkey be family….” “Turkey in the Straw,” one of my personal favorites, is a slowed down rendition of the original with a funky kind of groove.

Rounding out the album are some slower songs which make perfect lullabies and embody the love that Apple Apple was premised on. ‘Reflections,’ for example, was written while Keeth was out walking with his son, sometimes in the middle of the night or early in the morning, to help him fall asleep. I think most parents should either relate to or remember this very vividly.

Apgar, along with the rest of The Harmonica Pocket contingent, create a rich environment that carries the message of love, acceptance, wonder and respect for the world around us. Apple Apple is sure to be enjoyed by the 0 – 5 crowd and their grown-ups. Without a doubt one of our favorite albums of the year so far. I encourage all of you to tempt your palate and take a bite out of this record. It will absolutely satisfy your “aural” taste buds.

Copies of the album are available at CDbaby.com and KidzMusic.com. Individual songs and album downloads can be found at the aforementioned sites as well as iTunes, Amazon.com, Rhapsody.com, eMusic, Spotify and many other digital download stores.

You can also “look inside” the album here, find lyrics and read about the songs’ stories here. Highly Recommended.

Below you will find a clip for the reggae influenced “Happy Mother’s Day,” as well as, a video for the silly yet heroic tale of “Diaperman.”

“Happy Mother’s Day”

Diaperman [courtesy of YouTube]

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of the album for possible review. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are based solely on my honest opinion.