Today is a special holiday in which we honor and pay tribute to the brave men and women who serve/have served our country. The band of brothers and sisters that put all of themselves into protecting and fighting for freedom and justice.
In honor of Veterans Day, I am proud to present a guest post by Derek McGee of the band Funkinships. Derek is an Iraq war veteran whose reintegration into regular life was made easier with the help of music, and a friend by the name of Charlie Chamberlain. The two men met aboard the Mystic Whaler, a sailing classroom on the Hudson River. Together, along with the crew and some friends on board, Derek and Charlie created Funkinships, and subsequently released their debut album, Post Folk Absurdist.
Derek’s guest post highlights the significance of being a part of a pack. The powerful effects of strength in numbers, both actively and emotionally. The strength of your crew, your band, is what gives each individual member strength, especially out on the battlefield. It’s a piece that will resonate with many, whether you are honoring a veteran you know, or simply observing the day with your own pack. As a bonus, check out “Chicken Flap Fly” at the bottom of the post.
Veterans Day is different for veterans than it is for the rest of the country. For most it is a chance to show appreciation to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces, but for those who served it is a time to reflect on our time serving. I will tell you what this looks like for me. I miss my herd. Humans are a social animal. We belong in herds, tribes, packs, clubs, or platoons. Whatever you call your group, you need one. That was one of the hardest parts about getting out of the military. I was suddenly on my own. I have a fiancé and as of 6 weeks ago a daughter, but I still miss the completeness that only a herd can bring. Today, my herd is the band Funkinships. That includes anyone singing or playing along. Funkinships has a fluid membership.
We all want to belong to something larger than ourselves.Making music with the people around you lets you do more than feel like you are a part of something bigger — you can hear it.You can hear how you fit into the whole.
When I came back from Iraq the second time I bounced around looking for a herd.I tried finance.That didn’t work.I joined a sailboat crew — that worked but I couldn’t do it forever.Then one day on the boat I met Charlie Chamberlain, a musician.Together we wrote songs (even though I had no musical experience) and held a band rehearsal with some other volunteers on the boat.I got that same sense of contentment I did bunking with my platoon in the train station north of Fallujah, Iraq.
So, this Veterans Day I will look through the old photos and reach out to my fellow Marines like I always do.But I will also put on the Funkinships CD and sing along.And while I am thankful for the veterans of this country, like everyone else, today I am especially thankful that there are people willing to sing along with me. Because I need a herd.What is your herd?
Experiencing how other cultures greet each other is one of the things I love most about learning a new language. In many ways, the greetings are similar—”Hello,” “How are you,” “What is your name,” “My name is”—but expressed with their own unique flavor. The richness of World Music gives us a vehicle through which we can better understand and connect with a community of people, which is why I am thrilled to present today’s video premiere, “Anta Gata Doko Sa” (“Where Are You From?”).
Elena Moon Park made her 2012 debut with the stunning Rabbit Days and Dumplings, an album that mixes traditional American folk music with traditional Asian sounds offering a diverse array of songs from East Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Tibet and Taiwan).
“Anta Gata Doko Sa” is a popular Japanese children’s song often sung while playing with a bouncing ball. Park’s video features beautifully animated oil painting (credit: Lauren Gregory) that fluidly glides along with the smooth Dub-infused rhythm of the song. The combination is fun to watch and learn from. Look for a charming little girl who bounces a ball with her shoulders and transforms into a ball herself.
For those in the New York area, Elena Moon Park will be performing in Symphony Space’s Just Kidding Series with Sonia De Los Santos on Nov. 5. I highly recommend this show as both of these artists are extremely memorable.
Check out Park’s video for “Sol Nal” which features Sonia De Los Santos.
Subscribe to Park’s YouTube channel to view additional live performances, and follow Park on Facebook to stay in touch.
Every day another tragic story of intolerance gets added to the pile. The future of our country and the world at large looks pretty bleak—if you believe we are powerless. But I can’t go there. I have to believe that we can DO something. That we can make some change happen. Otherwise, why not just give up and live in bunkers underground?
Thinking about change on a large scale—nationally and internationally—is a tall order. How can we move the needle even just a hair? Can we lean on music to work some magic here?
Letting Go of the Baggage
When my daughter Emily was around three years old, an African American girl sat down next to us at the library. Emily pointed to the girl’s arm and asked, “Why is your skin brown?” The girl’s response was striking. “Because my mom and dad are like that. My brother said it doesn’t come off.” That last part hit me hard.
I went on to explain to Emily that friends are all different colors and come from different places. But, explaining itvery simply like that didn’t feel like enough. The diversity of the people in our everyday lives allows us to have a uniquely dynamic social experience. I’ll admit the topic was uncomfortable for me, only because I have already been exposed to the heaviness of how skin color can define you.
Emily wasn’t fazed. Her innocence knows no undiscerning in terms of judgment. This year when her first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her classmates were stunned that not so long ago they wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together at lunch because of their skin color. To them, this idea was ridiculous. And their reaction shook me awake. Kids are not inherently biased. Skin color means nothing until someone or something gives it meaning.
If there is going to be change and acceptance and tolerance in our future, kids are where we need to start. It’s not a new idea. But it’s an idea that can’t wait anymore.
This is where music fits in. It becomes the voice inside your head. It reinforces messages in a way that is direct and relatable. Music can empower children with the fuel and fire to move forward with the desire for change, peace, acceptance, and a more inclusive world.
Starting the Conversation with Our Kids
Oakland-based Alphabet Rockers deliver hip-hop music infused with positive messages. This seems simple but the work of Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. goes deep.
Their latest release, The Playground Zone, is a different album for the Alphabet Rockers. It boldly steps into a more social, personal light. Produced while at the Oakland Zoo Labs Music Residency, McGaw and Shepherd created a powerful album that shines a light on timely issues related to race, ethnicity, neuro-diversity and the strength found in community.
These topics may not be obvious dinner table discussions and for sure they aren’t always comfortable to initiate. But we have a responsibility to guide our children—and to help shape their perception of themselves and the world. How children process and integrate words, ideas, fears and beliefs are what drive their thoughts and actions. This is where change is going to happen.
McGaw and Shepherd are passionate about putting their craft to work and helping parents and educators engage and connect with young children. The music plants seeds of acceptance that can grow to empowerment and knowledge that can ultimately change the world. As a parent, the songs offer a roadmap for questions like: How do I get the conversation started? How do I keep it age appropriate and simple? How do I talk about acceptance in a way that won’t be misconstrued or create more anxiety about what goes on in the world?
As a group, the Alphabet Rockers are stepping forward and putting out the call—for all of us to step up. Change is not going to happen just because it’s the right thing. Or with two hip-hop artists on a stage. We are all responsible. In “Change the World” McGaw and Shepherd emphasize that it’s time to make the changes that we suggest to others. It’s time to recognize the power in numbers and walk together.
Wishing for the day where we don’t have to hide – who we are, how we pray, how we love – it’s all right Everyone gets the chance to speak their mind And people stand up – stand up for what’s right How about you – would you make that change? How about me – will I do the same? Wishing for a time when the world’s safe for all And no matter who it is there’s help when we fall No one feels alone – love is the call And people feel safe without borders, or walls How about you – would you make that change? How about me – will I do the same?
The brilliance of The Playground Zone’s foundation is that it’s built around the playground—a familiar place where kids get to be kids. It’s a testing ground for negotiation, a lab in itself for divisions and collaboration. It’s where you find who you are and who you want to be with. As serious as this may sound, play is at the heart of if all. The playground is meant for all children to find a place to coexist together. To feel confident that the ground they are standing on belongs as much to them as to their best friend or the kids climbing monkey bars and playing tag next to them. This self-evident truth is the subtext for The Playground Zone.
We Are Not All Created Equally. That’s a Beautiful Thing.
Children start off with a clean slate, able to see equality across differences. In fact, without other influences, labels don’t even emerge for a good portion of their little lives. Differences are curiosities but easily embraced. As children grow and outside influences seep in, they become aware that not only are they different from their peers, but those differences mean something. In songs like “Oddball,” the Alphabet Rockers welcome the idea that we are all different.
This song goes out to all the brains of the world We all got them, they all work differently You feel like you don’t fit in? Well…
In “Gimme Some Skin,” Alphabet Rockers take a familiar gesture and turn it into an opportunity for connection between races, highlighting the magnificence of different skin tones coming together. The symbolism of something so basic and familiar is electrifying when spoken through Shepherd’s voice.
Skin color is a spectrum we know that fact Highlight its beauty through high five contact Human is human we have the same parts Skin tones are different but not too far apart Every high five is special because we are The colors, together they raise the bar Bringing us together, dropping that guard
The Lyrical Flow—Conversation is Key
Through lyrically poetic verses, hip-hop and rap speak out and communicate to others who can relate. McGaw and Shepherd passionately and confidently begin timely conversations carried along by their own self-expression with heartfelt lyrics and rhymes articulated over infectious DJ beats. Their technique is solid and clear. Their quest to encourage inclusion, tolerance and equality is felt in every syllable.
Unity and love are at the forefront of the Alphabet Rockers’ messages and with those guiding principles kids are encouraged to embrace their uniqueness, rock an ultimate high five with a friend and just get their wiggle jiggle on. A refreshing spectrum that has the possibility to make a significant, rippling impact.
Alphabet Rockers’ music presents their young audience with a fundamental shift in thinking—to see the world with more open and tolerant eyes than generations before. The Playground Zone gives parents a place to start conversations with kids and a place to let the music speak for itself uniting us with a vision of liberty and justice for all.
Amazon Prime Members can stream or download this new single starting today through June 23, 2016 at no additional cost via Amazon’s Prime Music service.
Noveltiesarrives just in time for summer with a celebration of original and frosty treats. The album is now available for pre-order through Amazon. Customers who pre-order the album will also instantly receive the single, “Time to Make the Donuts” to enjoy at no additional cost. Novelties will be available on June 17, 2016 for digital download and CD purchase on Amazon Music as well as on Prime Music for Amazon Prime members to listen ad-free at no additional cost to their membership.
We love playlists any time of year but there are certain times where it feels like the season dictates the need for certain kinds of sounds. Summer is one of them. Every summer, we look forward to creating a soundtrack that echoes the feeling of warmer weather, beach days, outdoor concerts, nature walks and road trip adventures. Even when the hot, sticky weather calls for more time spent indoors, we reach for things that are upbeat, breezy and remind us to just take it easy.
Thanks to our friends at Sugar Mountain PR, the following playlist will help kick-start your summer soundtrack. Starting today, the playlist is available for download through May 25, 2016.
Like what you hear? Click on the artist’s name to visit their site and learn more. Be sure to also check their shows/schedule pages to see if you can catch a summer concert in your town.Frances England – “Explorer of the World” (Explorer of the World)
San Francisco’s Charity and the JAMbandrecently released their sixth album for families entitled Earth. As the title would suggest, the album is an ode to Earth, but moreso to the interconnectedness we have with it (and each other), and how our actions have a direct impact on maintaining a sustainable well-being for our planet.
Though this is a concept album, there is a variety of tracks that are also wonderful meditations meant to cultivate lovingkindness, peace, happiness, unity and build awareness of the power we have to effect change together any day of the year.
As part of the celebration honoring the album’s release, I am pleased to present the premiere of the song “Shine.” “Shine” offers a musical meditation built on cultivating feelings of goodwill within ourselves which can then be given to all other living things, and directed back toward the earth. The intention is to shine out everything we’ve got – love, appreciation, peace – toward others, in hopes that our positive energy will carry far and wide. “Shine” also serves as a starting point for discussion with children about themes of kindness, generosity, and responsibility.
Charity Kahn, lead singer and founder explains:
“Shine” is ultimately about what we have to offer to our world. Part of our job in this life is to cultivate positive qualities in ourselves — like peace, joy, and love — and then to reflect these outward, sharing our best selves with others and our planet. And, perhaps most importantly, to remember that suffering is also part of life, and that all beings suffer. When we remember this truth — that we all suffer, and we all wish to be free from suffering — we are then capable of true compassion.
As with all of Charity and the JAMband’s music, “Shine” is delivered in a powerful way with lots of positive energy that simply rocks.
To learn more about the story behind the song, visit Charity and the JAMband’s official site where you can also find activities to share with your children. Kahn will be posting a new song story every day through May 6, 2016 so tune into Facebook and Twitter for updates.
“Shine” is featured on Charity and the JAMband’s sixth album Earth. More info can be found on the band’s official site and copies of the album can be downloaded/purhcased through Bandcamp, iTunes, CD Baby,Spotify (streaming).
To learn more about Kahn and her mindfulness based practice and offerings check out a guest post previously published here.
I am just gonna dive right into this new find here because I am extremely excited about it.
Todd McHatton has just launched a new podcast that we are cuckoo crazy over.
The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast, dubbed as “an imaginary NPR style rock and roll space comedy,” debuts (officially) Thursday, April 21, 2016, but is available digitally now for anyone ready to experience a harkening back the golden age of radio. Broadcasting twice monthly from a red and white rocket hurtling through the Galaxy friendly monsters Marvy and Finch along with other special guests (voiced by McHatton) cover topics that channel the mystery, intrigue, drama, and comedy of old time radio. Each character has a very inviting way of drawing you into their world of galactic awesomeness. The podcast covers live sports coverage of events like the Semi-Final Regional Galactic Bubble Blowing Contest, music reviews featuring artists like Flat and U Lence, news programming and even quirky sponsors.
The fact that this podcast is being marketed to kids/families makes it so unique because it’s reach is really so broad. There really is nothing like it out there in the kids podcast market and it’s so refreshing. Adults who love Monty Python and even cult fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will appreciate the way the characters exchange dialogue throughout, and particularly when it comes to the science-based aspects of the podcast. There is also a touch of Mister Rogers in there in terms of the thought McHatton has put into bringing all of these weird and wonderful characters to life. Underneath it all, there is a big-hearted person who has managed to hold on to that sense of wonder and imagination that has allowed him to create infinite amounts of excellent experiences for all ages.
Underneath it all McHatton’s love of comedy, novelty, and preserving vintage gold of yesteryear just shines. Listeners will be drawn in by McHatton’s natural and endearing presentation which feels as though he is sharing his favorite things with you, his friends.
In short, The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast is just McHatton being McHatton and that has always been my favorite thing about listening to anything he produces. I think it will be yours too.
Subscribe to The Imaginary Accomplishments Podcast today because I really shouldn’t be the only one putting this on repeat more than once an hour.
And there are TWO episodes just waiting for you! Go!
Being part of something special. It’s a longing that defines us as humans – whether we’re 7 or 77. Imagine for your child an open club where everyone belongs and is welcome to just be themselves. No overthinking things. No self-consciousness. Just the freedom to enjoy the heck out of every moment of childhood. Pure and simple.
Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Liz DeRoche (aka The Singing Lizard) captures this joy in her new album, Club Called Awesome. With a sun-kissed electro-pop sound, she opens her arms wide and invites everyone to be part of the action, beat by splendid beat.
Throughout the album you get the feeling that DeRoche is the kind of person that EVERYONE would love having as a friend on the playground. You can hear it in her uplifting, breezy tone. There is a reassurance, a sincerity that you are with someone who wants the best for those in her company. Club Called Awesomewas inspired by and largely reflects back on DeRoche’s own childhood in which she started her own club in a friend’s tree house and “made friends with every kid in the neighborhood.” DeRoche shares, “I was allowed to grow up in my way, with my own peculiar inquisitiveness. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but there was never a lack of love and laughter.” It is in these thoughts that you can find the bedrock of the album’s heart.
While the album succeeds in its mission of fun, DeRoche also ventures into the territory of feelings and acceptance. “Show Me Your Happy” calls upon kids to demonstrate an expression of happiness (“show me your happy / jump up and down / clap your hands / dance to the beat”). “Feeling Blue” tells kids it’s okay to feel their feelings because everyone has tough days, especially when “you’re growing up and learning how to be yourself.” “Be Yourself” expresses that whether you are a boy or a girl there are no rules that define you. You are welcome to play just as you are, whether that means being the kind of girl that likes to ride her bike in the mud or a boy who makes cookies for his great grandma. It’s an empowering message that I would have wanted to hear as a kid and the message that I want my daughter Emily to hear as often as possible.
There is so much goodness baked into Club Called Awesome. DeRoche fills each song with positive messages, meeting kids where they are, identifying with them and making them feel safe to be themselves. No judgment. As members of this awesome club, kids can expect a wonderfully inclusive, welcoming place that promises to provide nonstop excitement. Friends will be made. Fun will be had.
You can purchase Club Called Awesome on iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp. As a bonus, listeners will receive a comic book version of the album written by DeRoche.
Artist: Frances England Album: Explorer of the World (official store) | iTunes | Amazon NOTE: Read through for bonus activities for you and your family inspired by this album. England will be releasing an accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).
“Be an explorer of your world.” These were instructions given to my classmates and me during a recent improv class. Our assignment was to embody our experiences, put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
For example, the next time you eat sushi, imagine being the sushi chef. Embodying that identity brings you closer to the experience of eating sushi, appreciating the texture and taste beyond what you could access as just the consumer. You connect with your imagination and feed your curiosity.
I recalled the impact of this exercise when I first heard Frances England’s new album, Explorer of the World.
Sometimes people look they don’t see. They hear without listening. They miss the beat. And I don’t want to be the one to miss out. The one who’s not looking at the world around. (“Explorer of the World”)
We spend so much of our time in front of screens, digitally connecting with the world, that we forget to really see what’s around us. As my daughter Emily has gotten older and her interests have shifted more to gaming (and the excitement of a new Poseidon dragon being born in her game!), I admit I’ve become less motivated to get outside and just discover with her.
This modern-day state of affairs is partly what inspired England to create Explorer of the World, which urges families to find beauty in the world around us and really dig in.
Children are natural explorers and really the best improv instructors. Their imagination and super curiosity fuels us as parents. We get to break new ground with our kids in the real world. And it does get real. Like that moment when your child is playing with her umbrella in the gusty wind and she turns to you and asks, “What if I threw an umbrella up into space while standing on the sun?”
Those are the precious moments that Explorer of the World characterizes and inspires. In “Little by Little” England sings “I do love you, you appreciate the wonder in everything,” and I feel my heart ache because I want every moment to last while knowing the days are quickly ticking by. England brings such depth of emotion as a mother, the whole hearted and body feeling of loving your children with everything you have, wanting to savor the time you have with them while reassuring them (and yourself) that you will always be there. This is underscored in “My Street” as England sings, “I’ll be there to show, show, show you the way / I’ll be there to warn you about those twists and those turns / I’ll be there to lead you back home, to lead you back.”
What I love about Explorer of the World is the subtle reminder that feeding your curiosity doesn’t mean spending a lot of money or a big, grand outing; the world around us – whether city, country or our own backyard – provides so many little things to see, to understand and to learn. We can find patterns in common sights and familiar places and rhythm in everyday life, whether it’s stopping to listen to a beatboxer or grabbing hold of opportunity and pretending to be a tightrope walker on the shadow of a telephone wire.
A long-time resident of San Francisco, California, England uses the artful city as the backdrop and inspiration for her fourth album. In fact, England spent two years capturing the sights and the sounds of the city by carrying around a handheld recorder and integrating what she recorded into the songs. For Bay Area residents, the bucket drumming that opens “Street Life” is a street performance on Market Street, and ambient noises were recorded on late night walks through North Beach.
England is sensitive to the world. She feels through the things she sees and can so vividly recreate the richness and emotion of an experience. There is this layer of being awake, the exhilaration of seeing what we see when we step outdoors, to bond through our experiences together when we let the sizzle of our surroundings breathe life into us and take us away.
To produce Explorer of the World, England once again teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer Dean Jones. The album was also co-produced with Dave Winer from Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. The result is a very eclectic composition that mixes electro and acoustic melodies and harmonies with a rhythmic blend of funk and beats. This new dynamic is a very fitting dimension to England’s smooth sound.
So whether we pretend to be a sushi chef, pack up a bag to climb Mt. Everest, make a map of our neighborhood, visit where our parents grew up, or actually fly to another land and step through a new culture, we have the power to experience life together as a family, treasuring every moment little by little. Those are memories that will change us, strengthen bonds, and last far beyond the time Poseidon the dragon was born.
Bonus activity: Be an explorer! Listen closely to England’s lyrics that offer fun suggestions to dive deeper into the adventures right outside your door. Watch for England’s accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).
Neighborhood Map: Make a map of your neighborhood. Draw in the houses. Fill in the trees. What about cars and their colors? Shrubs, animals, fences, mailboxes, kids, sidewalk cracks, neighborhood oddities and fixtures? Go home and draw your version of your neighborhood map and compare to your family members’ map. Discuss the ways you see things in similar and different ways.
Quiet Observation: Take a camera and notebook on a walk. Spend 10-20 minutes walking silently (depending on your children’s ages) and observe the things you pass every day until you find at least three patterns you’ve never noticed before. Look for shapes. Look for color. Talk about the patterns. Take notes. Take photos of the patterns.
Neighborhood History: Find out who has lived on your street the longest. Interview them. What has changed? What’s better? What’s worse?
People Watching: Sit on a bench in a public area or silently walk through your town or city. Listen to the people walking by. What are they saying? Write a story about who they are and where they’re going.
Family Meeting: Arrange a time for a family meeting. Bring a calendar. Have each family member name a place he or she really wants to go this year. Maybe the museum, the waterpark, the train stations, the zoo, camping trip, kayaking, the mountains, the ocean. Decide what’s realistic and write it down (whether it’s today, tomorrow, this year or in the near future).
“Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago. ” – Sandra Velasquez
Sandra Lilia Velasquez is a force of nature. Dubbed “SLV,” she’s as driven and passionate as an artist as she is a mother.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sandra is known in the adult music world as the lead singer of the nationally and internationally acclaimed Latin group Pistolera and front-woman of SLV, her solo effort. She also is the songwriter and lead singer for the bilingual (Spanish-English) kindie band Moona Luna.
Since their 2006 kindie music debut, they have released three highly acclaimed albums. Panorama, Moona Luna’s most recent release, was inspired by Sandra’s journey as a mother, world explorer and lover of travel.
I had a chance to speak with Sandra about the album, and dive deeper into her creative process. What swelled from the conversation was a sheer tidal wave of insight, strength and passion in a way that only Sandra could deliver.
Kids Can Groove: Panorama was just released and it’s Moona Luna’s third album. I love how it blends together themes of travel, love and family.
Sandra Lilia Velasquez: I feel like it’s our best album. I think everyone feels that way about their newest work, but that’s actually how I feel.
With the very first Moona Luna album, kindie music was new to me. My band and I had been playing together for 10 years as Pistolera with a musical vibe very similar to Moona Luna. It was Latin music. It was upbeat. It was in Spanish, but the content was much more adult. Pistolera’s songs are about immigration, feminism, and life issues – things that children can’t relate to.
When I was writing the first Moona Luna album I thought, “Okay, how do I get in touch with my strong, non-political side, kid-friendly side?” I had my daughter as my guide. She was only three-years-old so the themes were geared more towards her age group and her interests. With the second album, my daughter was learning about time, what time is and how to tell time, so the songs on that album related to a time theme.
My daughter is now eight-years-old. The content for Moona Luna has grown along with her and on Panorama it’s clear that we’re not tailoring it to three-year-olds anymore. We’re just playing music and trying to make it sonically fun with singalong parts and fun instruments but it’s a little more of a grown up sound.
KCG: Has your journey of motherhood influenced your journey as a person and a musician?
SLV: Yeah, I don’t know how to separate them. Now that I have a daughter, the reality is that I can’t go on tour for a month. You really learn how to use every moment of every day, whether it’s a moment for yourself or whether it’s moment to spend with your child. As a musician, I really have to plan everything out – working on music certain days or planning what I’m going to do after my daughter goes to sleep. Everything is worked around having a child and I’m sure that this will change as she grows. At every stage you have to keep living your life with the schedule of the needs of the child. I can’t even picture what it would be like to not have a child. I have friends that are musicians that don’t have children and I just think you have no idea how much time you have.
KCG:So true! My daughter is seven-years-old now and it has gotten a lot easier, though now that I have a little more time I tend to reflect on my own childhood and think about how I can model certain life skills for her. I really relate to the family theme in Panorama. “I’m Always Here” and “Llevame” both have a kind of motherly/parental, reassuring vibe to them.
SLV: Panorama has a very strong family theme. You can’t really separate the family theme from the album. There are some people that play music for children who don’t have children. I always marvel at that because my music is so informed by my experience of having a child. You know those feelings that you can’t really explain to other people or that you could explain but it sounds very abstract? Like what it feels like to be protective of someone eternally. People, they know what that means in the abstract, but they don’t know what that feeling is. So those songs on the album are very much informed by that experience of being an actual mother and watching someone grow.
As your child grows, one day you realize they are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. You have this moment of “Wow…” You really learn by watching your parents be themselves. I don’t think that I actually realized that until I was completely in my 30s. It’s not really about what your parents tell you to do. It’s about how you see them live their lives and you decide if you want to mimic some of those traits.
I write from the experience of being somebody who loves somebody unconditionally and is watching them grow and wants them to want to be independent and wants them to be strong in the world but also wants them to be a good person.
KCG: “Espejos (Mirrors)” is one of my favorite songs and the message in the song really relates to, as you say, realizing your children are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. Specifically in the words, “Did you ever wonder why your smile looks like mine? / Just like my mother before me. / Our laughter has the same ring.”
SLV: Mirrors are the things we all see. When you look at your child and see that they have your hands, or your feet or your eyes. And you see how you’re connected with your own parents. It’s almost so obvious to say it but that’s really the root of that song. Espejos is really the things you see in your child that are part of you. You feel like you’re looking in a mirror.
KCG: You are a part of 3 bands (Pistolera, SLV and Moona Luna). Previously, you talked about having a schedule and maintaining a work-life balance. How do you stay true to the work and the process required to fulfill the role of mother and musician while also setting an example for your daughter?
SLV: I was lucky to have mother who was extremely strong-willed and driven. She is an immigration lawyer, activist and professor. That is why I am the way that I am. When you are young, you don’t understand. I would think, “You’re never around. Why aren’t you here?” Then as I got older, I realized she just loved to work; her job is not just a job, it’s her passion. It’s her career. That work ethic and that kind of dedication to your passion translated into music for me. I’m the same way as my mother. I just go for what I want. My daughter will learn by watching me be myself.
KCG: Does your daughter join you for live performances and is she also involved in music?
I bring my daughter with me as much as possible. She comes to my shows. She’s backstage with me. She sits in the audience. She’s at the merchandise table with me. If I can bring her, I will bring her. She’s seen me perform a million times now. She sees me practicing. The lesson is if you want to be good at something you have to practice and put in time with it. I was forced to play music as a child and I hated it and couldn’t wait to quit.
I’m not forcing her to be a musician but I want her to practice something. When you’re older, no one is ever mad that they play an instrument and speak two languages. No one ever says, “I wish I didn’t speak another language” or “I wish I didn’t play the violin.” It’s hard to learn anything new but if you can stick with practicing something then over time you do get better and you have this additional skill. Not everyone has that.
For me, of course, I always laugh at the poetry of the fact that my mother forced me to speak Spanish and to take piano lessons, both of which I rejected at the time and now I’m a musician and I sing in Spanish. I guess Mom was right.
KCG: Was Spanish the primary language spoken in your home?
SLV: Yes. My mom is from Mexico. My Dad is also Mexican but he was born in California. So, he’s basically Chicano. I was born in San Diego and growing up, my mother basically would just not answer me if I didn’t speak to her in Spanish. My Dad was a little more lenient so I would always go run to him.
KCG: Did either of your parents play music or did you grow up with music played in your home?
SLV: My family is not musical. Both my parents grew up with very little opportunity and they were proud to be able to provide me with an opportunity like piano lessons. My father is an artist, a painter, and was very encouraging artistically. All the walls in my bedroom were murals. He just gave me the paintbrushes and acrylic paint and said, “Do whatever you want.” As an artist, he understands that urgent feeling inside like “I need to go create!” or “I need to go paint!” or “I need to go write a song!” or “I need to go play the drums!” Whatever is your passion, it’s like a drive – a calling – that you can’t just stop. Not every parent gets that.
As a musician, you always hear these stories about other musicians and how maybe they grew up singing in the church or both of their parents are singers. I did not grow up in that kind of family so I feel like I have to work really hard at music because I don’t feel like there was any genetic traits sent down to me to be musically inclined. Both my parents are super supportive, though. They give all my records to their neighbors.
KCG: Was your family into travel?
SLV: Yes! Travel was instilled in me at a young age. We took a trip every year, visiting places like Canada, Mexico, Hawaii. We have albums full of family photos documenting our trips. My mother traveled a lot for work, still does, and my father would always go to the museums in Europe. Everyone in my family loves to travel so it seems like my passion either comes the experiences of taking family trips or it’s a genetic thing where we have this drive to go places.
KCG: As a musician, you’ve been able to tour – nationally with Moona Luna and both internationally and nationally with Pistolera. Was the idea of touring a kind of compass directing you toward becoming a musician and forming a band?
SLV: Traveling is a crucial part of my life. I always have to have a trip planned. Travel is a huge luxury and such a gift to be able to do. I just love going to other places seeing how other people live. Traveling puts you in your place in the world. It’s very easy to get caught up in your world and think about how things are a certain way.
As a musician I get to do two things that I love to do: travel and play music. Travel informs my music and the more you are informed and the more experiences you have it all becomes fodder for writing. You have to have something to write about.
KCG: As you reflect on/were reflecting back on your own travel memories, and also imagining traveling with your daughter, what would you want her to see or hope that she gets out of it?
SLV: I want her to see that other people live differently. That is the main takeaway from traveling – people have much less and are happy and grateful. Not every kid has an iPad, or needs one. To learn that people are fundamentally the same everywhere is a great life lesson. It opens your mind so much.
KCG: In Old School Way you say “I can take it all,” “I can take it in.” Was there a particular experience tied to that feeling of greatness?
SLV: I’ve been to a lot of different pyramids in Latin America – in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. You go really early when the sun is first coming out and it’s pretty magical. At the top, you can see the entire jungle floor and it just looks endless. You don’t see any fences; there aren’t any parking lots. It’s just completely free, open, lush jungle. We have natural wonders here in the U.S. but in terms of architectural relics we don’t so much have that. The Grand Canyon is beautiful but touristy. There are probably parts where you can go and feel like you are the only one. But, you don’t see the parking lots when you are at the pyramids.
KCG: Many of the songs reference walking or things you saw on the streets.
SLV: When I was visiting Latin America, I always just took the bus somewhere and then walked around a town. I am always interested in really being in a place so I never do tours or anything guided. I never rent cars. I usually walk or take buses. In the songs you refer to, I am flashing back to walking around the town square in Chiapas, Mexico, on cobblestone streets. There is no better way to get to know a place than to literally walk around it. You stumble upon things like restaurants or climbing steps to get to a church on top of a hill. It is just very freeing.
KCG: How did you come up with the name and concept for the album?
SLV: I’m always looking for titles that are bilingual. Panorama is a perfect example because it’s the same word in English and Spanish. Once I thought of the album’s title, it was just easy to come up with songs that related to the themes of travel and family. The title is like the seed. I also like having a theme with an album, which is something that is recurring with Moona Luna and some Pistolera albums, too, where it’s about a whole experience or a whole journey.
Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago.
KCG: What was it like to relive your memories by envisioning them with your daughter? Does it change the experience for you in any way.
SLV: Yes, in a couple ways. First, I can’t do anything dangerous. If I was alone, I might stay in a cheap hostel not in the best part of town. With a child in tow, I would never take those risks. Kids tend to not like lying around in hammocks drinking vodka! I would have to consider things that are also fun for her.
KCG: Panorama is a bilingual album with Spanish songs, English songs and a blend in the same song. Do you feel the language is also a part of the journey? Can families get a sense of a different culture from your album?
SLV: I think the music comes first and people hear the lyrics after. The feeling you get from the music is the most important. I like when people sing along to things they can’t understand simply because they like the melody. I definitely feel like families can get a feel for different cultures from the different musical cues – African rhythms and Latin percussion.
KCG: Panorama has more of a rhythmic sound to it than previous albums. Did you change the arrangements to flow along with the songs?
SLV: The style that you hear in a lot of Moona Luna and Pistolera songs is called Cumbia and that is very popular in Mexico. It’s actually Columbian but it’s very popular in Mexico. Some people hear it as Reggae or some people hear it as Ska. I grew up just hearing that in San Diego because it’s like you just can’t not hear it. It’s not even like my parents were blasting it on their home stereo. You hear it from a car driving by or the people in the restaurant are playing it. I didn’t really notice how much it was played until I moved to New York.
I wrote Panorama with my songwriting partner, Sean Dixon, who has played African music for many years and played bass on the album. Sean is also a drummer so he brought in a different rhythmic element to get me out of my Latin groove, which I could stay in forever, so it was nice.
KCG: What would you like our audience to take away from listening to Panorama?
SLV: Travel is something that is dear to my heart and I feel that to be able to communicate that through an album is really cool because the family trips that you take when you’re kid really stay with you. I feel like a lot of people can relate to traveling with their families. Together, you get to experience something new, something different and maybe you learn something. People always remember being in the back of their parents’ avocado green car. They remember how it smelled how it felt and those are the memories that stay with you.
Also, everyone needs a good soundtrack for the car! If everyone has one favorite song, that makes me feel good.