When I look through childhood photos and see my grandmother, I recall her singing to me in her own language. While I didn’t understand the words at first, repetition and the rich, steady rhythm of her voice compelled me to sing along. Naturally, my mother also sang those songs, sometimes accompanied by the piano as my sister and I gathered around her. This passage of song and tradition is something that still exists in my family today and is always revived when we get together. As I watch my own daughter take my place as the babe in my grandmother’s/mother’s arms, I recall those days fondly and am grateful to be able to share a piece of our history with her.
This is the feeling I get from listening to ¡Fantastico!, the first Spanish-language album by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. On a recent trip to visit family in Texas, Diaz reconnected with his Mexican heritage and was inspired by the experience of sharing it with his daughter, Ella. “Tres Ratones,” initially featured on last year’s highly acclaimed A Potluck, and included on ¡Fantastico!, was the first all Spanish track to come out of that trip.
¡Fantastico! also features one new song by Diaz. “La Vibora,” a quick paced dance tune, is a traditional Latin song which was sung to Diaz by his grandmother and mother when he was a child. The rest of the songs have been reworked and could easily be considered original. For example, “ABC is the Place To Be” appears as “Los Numeros.” Curious about the translation process and the making of this record, I had a chance to speak with Diaz who explained, “We worked with a producer in Texas, named Noe Benitez. He really helped tighten the translation part up as well. We wanted the Latino community to feel the songs’ authenticity but also wanted non-Spanish speakers to enjoy them and feel they could sing along.” As a fan of Diaz’s existing work, I can completely concur that this album is one your family will enjoy regardless of your mother tongue.
While many of the songs aren’t direct translations, we particularly enjoy listening to the English and Spanish versions together. Hearing the English words and understanding the story within the song gives us an idea of what the words mean in the Spanish versions. It’s an educational process that I love engaging in with my daughter even though she is able to follow along with the Spanish words just fine on her own. In fact, she prefers the Spanish versions at times, excited by the fact that she is learning and speaking a new language.
Although we have many favorites, “Tres Ratones” was and continues to be the reigning champion. It’s a fun song about a hungry cat and three mice. The song’s catchy chorus naturally encourages participation as the cat says “meow meow meow.” Other songs we dig are the surf rock beats of “Gato Astronata,” the retro-pop sweetness of Alisha Gaddis’s “uh oh’s” in “A Bailar” and the humorous banter between Diaz and his daughter in “¿Qué dices?” The latter, like its English counterpart, includes some fine scat singing by Diaz which is something my daughter loves to imitate. Randomly hearing “zom bom bom bom ba doba daba doombop boombada do bop” followed by “qué dices” from the mouth of a 4 year old is awesome!
¡Fantastico! is a colorful album steeped in tradition and a perfect reintroduction to the sweet sounds of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. Moving from last year’s communal supper to an all out gran fiesta, Diaz and the crew succeed again in delivering hip, danceable tracks that are filled with undeniable charm and infectious pop melodies.