Friends and random acquaintances routinely ask me, “Why do you listen to kids’ music?” I’ve asked myself the same question many times.
In poking through my Top 20 albums of 2015, an answer snuck up on me: the joy of music discovery. To be presented with and to explore new music is exhilarating –like discovering a whole new color or flavor. Sharing this passion with my daughter Emily (now 7 years old) is great fun and such a bonding experience. She is growing, and the music is growing with her.
For me, music discovery is more than just the songs at face value. It’s uncovering the stories behind the music; it’s connecting with the music makers and understanding the magical, teeny bits of real life, of real people that make the album art come alive. The artists that make up the kids’ music genre are welcoming and supportive and it’s been a pleasure to dive into what drives their creativity and thus, bring their stories to life. Continue reading →
Children are naturally curious and one of our most important responsibilities as parents is to satisfy their hunger for knowledge about themselves and their world. As the mother of a very curious 5-year-old daughter, I am always conscious about communicating with her as honestly as possible. She is at a critical age where her opinions are becoming stronger and justified based on what she regularly sees and hears. And that scares me. It also drives me to find ways to reinforce values that will shape the way she sees and treats others as she grows up in our complex, ever-evolving society. While she is still years away from understanding the true meaning of social justice, her internal drive to make things right, whether it’s protesting about litter or standing up to a bully on the playground for poking her friend’s stuffed bear, is inspiring.
Music has regularly been a vital catalyst for spawning many of our discussions. Today, I am proud to premiere a song that Jeff Bogle (Out With The Kids) asserts “will up the ante on the political, world-changing capabilities of kindie music, essentially retesting the waters to see if kid’s music can indeed change the world in the 21st century.” (credit: Jeff Bogle, “Why Can’t Kids Music Change The World?“, Cooper and Kid)
Karen K (of Karen & the Jitterbugs) and CJ Pizarro (a.k.a Mista Cookie Jar) have produced a song called “Rainbow,” which explores themes such as racial and cultural inclusivity, showing one’s true colors despite societal gender expectations, and the placement of current social change and civil rights issues into a historical context.
Just as I was completing my introduction for today’s post, I found a picture my daughter drew that has just a rainbow and the words “you r mi love” on it. She draws rainbows all the time and although she wasn’t drawing it because of this topic, it so genuinely represents the purity, love and innocence of a child‘s mind. There is so much potential for learning, understanding and acceptance before children are truly “affected” by other people’s fears. So why notteach them that the rainbows they draw are inside of them, teach them about their potential and plant seeds that will, as Karen says in the interview below, teach them to stand up for themselves and ultimately find justice in what’s right not necessarily what’s popular.
Download proceeds for “Rainbow” will benefit the fight for equality and LGBTQ rights.
Kids Can Groove: How did you two first meet and what prompted your collaboration?
Karen K: We’ve actually only met in person twice! We first met at KindieFest in New York last Spring and again 2 weeks later in Boston when Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips came up to be a part of the One Family Music Festival, a family music festival I’d put together with help from the Boston kindie community in response to the Boston Marathon bombings. We were all thrilled Cookie was part of such a great day of healing for families. Come to think of it, I guess this song is our second collaborative-attempt at using music to make a difference!
C.J. Pizarro (a.k.a Mista Cookie Jar): it was an honor to be able to help out for such an important cause. It struck me from the get-go that Karen was very committed to making a positive difference in the world through music. After the festival, we began collaborating on a song cross-country. We had a few fun ideas immediately, but it wasn’t until a few months later when she sent me the “Rainbow” demo that the creative gears really started to turn for us.
Lyrically, it seemed like a very natural subject matter to flow over — and urgent as well. In terms of justice, I’m always down to support the cause, and it’s special when you have something so full of heart that you think might actually make a big difference!
Any creative opportunity to affect social change is a rare one. Karen’s hook was just so emotional, simple, and meaningful — from the smart-phone recording alone, I knew there was good power there. The MC in me really loves a good hook — which really becomes your mantra/inspiration for every lyric you write.
KCG: What inspired you to write this song?
Karen: “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou. I love that quote.
While I’m a straight woman, I have many, many gay friends and colleagues. Back in February when Arizona tried to pass their anti-gay legislation, which thankfully the Governor vetoed, I was really upset and like a lot of other people, I thought, this type of thinking, this type of behavior, this type of governing should just not be happening. Although marriage equality and LGBTQ rights has long been an issue I care about, it occurred to me in that moment that this is the civil rights issue of our time, and of our children’s time – my own child’s time. And I knew, for me, I needed to do something.
At the same time, a gay friend of mine from my musical theater days in NYC posted on Facebook that he was devastated and that he felt he could not return to his hometown of Tucson. It broke my heart – and actually helped fuel the song. I sat down at the piano and wrote the “hook” or the chorus – “I will be a rainbow, I will let my star glow…I can chase the fear back into the night…” I wanted to look bigotry in the face with a message of hope – something that said that we can stand for love in this hatred, no matter what. I think at the time it was also a commitment to myself – a personal commitment to take a firmer stand on marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, because enough was enough.
I’m lucky because I was raised by loving, socially-conscience parents who taught all three of their kids to treat all people with kindness, and to stand up for what is right. My parents are from Greensboro, North Carolina, where they lived through the Woolworth’s sit-ins and events that drove and were tantamount to the Civil Rights Movement. Josephine Boyd, the first black student in the country to enroll at an all-white school, was a classmate of my parents at Greensboro High in 1958. I mean, they were in the thick of it. And their ideals were firmly planted not always on the popular side, but rather the right side of history. This was not lost on me as I drew the connections between the fight for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights in 2014, and the 1960s. It’s a great lesson in parenting actually; they passed their values onto me – to all three of us kids – by example. I think we live the way they live.
I sent CJ a scratchy little recording from my phone and out-of-tune piano and asked if he wanted to write this song that addressed these issues – a song of hope and justice and acceptance and love…for kids. And because he’s CJ and basically IS a walking rainbow, he of course said absolutely, and through emails we started talking specifically about what the song should be. We “got” each other right away. Though we have completely different musical styles, that was part of the beauty of working together.
CJ: I can empathize with anyone who is bullied for being different or not fitting in to what society deems as normal. I’ve always found this disturbing. I think in a way when it comes to gender issues, it just comes down to aesthetics and what people are used to and how willing people are to think outside their own box. People are driven to rage and hate because other people are so different than they are. Because it doesn’t fit into their world or perspective, it challenges them. I think its a dangerous mindset that leads to wars and oppression. Connecting to children at a young age with open-mindedness and free thought with such issues is key for progress. The revolution continues with the children. To grow as a people, we must educate our youngsters and hopefully our stubborn habits rooted in close-mindedness and exclusion will subside.
I believe music changes lives and helps pronounce movements. I’m deeply influenced by activists like Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Edward Said, Howard Zinn — and musicians who merge their activism and artistry like Bad Religion, Rage Against The Machine, Tom Morello, Omar Offendum, Outernational and the Beatles too — especially John Lennon — just to name a few. I feel children’s music to be just as powerful and KEY to social change. Creating a song like ours was very interesting to me and quite a natural fit. I was happy to read Jeff Bogle’s article and how he gave it up to Woody Guthrie & Pete Seger. Folk music and activism seem to go hand in hand. They work together so organically. After all, it’s music for folks. For many people of my generation (new parents included), both urban, suburban and even rural folks, hip-hop is a new folk music, if not THE new folk music. At its best, it seems to be a great way to break down ideas expositionally and emotionally at once. In its socially analytic nature, [hip hop] seems to be rooted in the same soil as folk. Creating a pop song with such socially conscious themes was something we thought could reach many while simultaneously raising a myriad of important and current issues.
I was also inspired by the spirit of punk rock, which gives me the strength and vigor to take a stand and not really give a hoot. Given the genre that we’re in, children’s music, I find it very interesting how such a song full of the spirit of inclusivity will more than likely infuriate many parents out there (if they hear it) who are diametrically opposed to our world view. It seems to be human nature and the current sociological climate we live in. But at least it’s a song of universal love and not a stick/stone/mean tweet. Let’s begin a meaningful dialogue with folks diametrically opposed to us! That’s progress! That’s punk rock!
KCG: What do you want families to take away from this song?
Karen: We hope of course that kids of all ages hear it and really get the message that they are special and unique and phenomenal no matter where they come from, what color their skin is, what their sexual orientation is, what the make-up of their family is. As CJ says in the song, “You be you, through and through.” We hope this song will be a catalyst for direct and honest discussion in families, at school at the playgrounds – among kids and adults – and that it changes the dialogue. I hope [families] sing along and that somehow this message seeps into their beautiful brains and hearts and they remember it. We also hope they hear all these other great songs with similar messages written by our amazing colleagues and that they play them on repeat. (The Not-Its just released a song called “Love is Love” that is great). And we hope that their parents and teachers show [kids] again and again that they are loved because of who they are, because they are so perfectly beautiful just as they are. CJ talks really poetically about this in the song.
CJ: Wether you are in a lefty community or one not so LGBTQ friendly, my hope is that with this “redemption song” floating in the ether, there will be a source of hope for oppressed souls to cling to, a set of rational ideals to meditate on, and an unadulterated feeling of unconditional love to share and spread like wildfire.
Karen: See? What he said.
KCG: Where do each of you personally stand on these issues?
CJ: I am a man who rocks polka-dotted pink socks. So yeah, I am a pro-pink male fo’sho’. I am 100% for the legalization of same-sex marriage. I think it comes down to basic human rights and I’m excited as a species to evolve past this issue.
Karen: Ha! I love CJ’s pink socks. As I say to my daughter: Stand with love. Not just acceptance and tolerance, but love. Celebrate the differences we find in each other. Love them.
But more directly put – I’m pro-same-sex marriage and I believe every human in our country regardless of sexual orientation or identification should enjoy the privileges our Constitution allows and be able to participate fully in our civil society. I also believe we must do a better job in supporting LGBTQ youth – whom we are failing across the board.
It’s interesting because since we started the song, Mitch and Cam got married, and at least 5 more states have legalized same-sex marriage. It’s so exciting to see this kind of progress, but as the lyrics go, we have a very long way to go. Kids are still being bullied every day for being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. LGBTQ make up 20-40% of the population of all homeless youth, yet only 3% to 5% of the general youth population in this country. The suicide rates among LGBTQ kids are higher than any other group. According to recent gay bullying statistics, gay and lesbian teens are two to three times as more likely to commit teen suicide than other youths. It’s maddening, and it’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, humans and members of a civil society to stop it.
KCG: What age group are you targeting for this song?
CJ: Every kid is different and we have to make huge generalizations to create a demographic. We’re hoping the song connects on a pop level, catchy with lyrics and audio. I think Karen’s has a universal hook, relatable to so many people while quite potent. My lyrics, due to the nature and speed of rap delivery, are much more specific and should prompt more investigation. My idea with connecting with children when you have so many lyrics in one song is to plant thought seeds. I think all these concepts we bring up are important for all children to think about and for adults to help them come to terms with it all. Children have to deal with many of these issues in their lives so connecting these ideas of light and love to a history of popular struggle, that’s something only the wise (ahem, adults?) can instill. Hopefully the song can act as a kindie catalyst for genius-activist-kids who will keep our planet self-sufficient indefinitely for generations and generations through green technology and intellectualized pacifism.
KCG: Do you have suggestions for how parents can talk to their kids about the messages in this song?
CJ: In general, breaking down lyrics line by line makes for an enriching listening experience later on. A song can be emotional and cerebral all at once. Some of the best songs grow in the cabeza and the corazón with each listen. Even picking one part of a song can lead you down to a sweet tangent of learning lessons. Hopefully, the song can act as a jumping off point for discussions about gender, different lifestyles, cultures, and a general investigation of people– what makes us all different and awesome.
K: Like every parent, I struggle every day with knowing the right thing to say on many subjects ranging from the mundane (“Why You Can’t Eat Ice Cream for the 403rd Time Today”) to bigger issues like this. And I would certainly not presume to tell parents how to parent, as I’m sure I would screw it up for them as frequently as I have with my own kid.
But I wonder…What if we all started talking directly and openly and honestly about this issue with our children? In age-appropriate ways, what if we talked with them about what it means to be gay? Lesbian? Transgender? Actually using the words, naming it. Educating ourselves, and taking the mystery out of the vocabulary so that when our kids hear those words used as weapons later, they will know better. And they will do better. What if we flat out told our kids that not allowing two people who love each other to get married is in violation of the civil rights we have the privilege of enjoying in this country – and therefore unacceptable? What if we showed them by example by going to the polls and voting in favor of such civil rights as often as possible, or wrote a letter to our Congressmen and women in support of marriage equality? What if we wrote that letter with our kids? What if we told our children that no matter what God we believe in – and we do believe in different Gods in this country and in this world – that no real God would support hatred and bigotry? What if? I do wonder.
On a more tactical note, I came across a great reference the other day after a good discussion with a friend about this issue. It’s an article called What Does Gay Mean: How to Talk to Your Kids about Sexual Orientation and Prejudice by Lynn Ponton, MD. It was published by the National Mental Health Association, and it offers some great guidance and even language for talking with our children – from preschoolers , to school-aged kids, to teenagers – about this. Dr. Ponton offers some great advice – some I plan to follow myself, while I continue asking the tough questions.
I am excited to bring you a guest post today by CJ Pizarro, aka Mista Cookie Jar. In the following post, MCJ interviews the classy cool Kindie group, The Zing Zangs. These highly ambitious teens have accomplished quite a lot in their young careers. Their positive energy shines in the following interview, which has no doubt contributed to their creative success thus far. One can’t help but wonder what’s to come.
Take it away Cookie!
The Zing Zangs — look out for this duo! These 13-year-old Canadian fellas, Trevor and Elliot, have an unstoppable amount of energy and creativity to share with the Kindie world. I interview Trevor here, who not only is the main songwriter, frontman, and Zing Zang visionary but is also a multi-instrumentalist, producer, video director, kids music internet DJ, and an all around nice kid matured WAY beyond his years. I am proud to consider him a peer even if I am 20 years his senior.
Blast Off! celebrates a unique brand of freedom in songwriting from the sillier tracks such as “Moustaches” and “Vending Machines” (which is about the random stuff you’d find in a Japanese vending machine) to the touching, “From a Frown,” a sweet ode to a Teddy Bear. Raw and pure in the spirit of great indie D.I.Y. records, the dimensions of youthfulness, silliness, and wonder are all displayed clearly in the their musicality and Trevor’s careful lyrics. One is reminded of the playfulness and pop-rock sensibilities of Recess Monkey, The Aquabats, and even Weird Al Yankovic. The opportunity to pick the brain of Trevor himself made me feel like one super-curious kid talking to another as fans of the same musical scene and fans of each other.
MCJ: So what’s your story, guys? Who are you, where are you from and when did you start making family/kids music?
T: We’re two energetic 13-year-olds in Vancouver, Canada, making music for younger kids and their families! We just released our first album, Blast Off!, in October. I’m the front-leader of [The Zing Zangs], and I got into kids music when I started hosting an online kids radio station called GooberKidsRadio. The general concept for The Zing Zangs is indie pop/rock music that’s specifically made for kids to jump, sing, and dance around to. The key to it is the huge amount of imagination in each song!
MCJ: How did you first hear about and get into Kindie?
MCJ: So tell me more about the concept of Blast Off!?
T: Blast Off! released on October 2. It’s superhero themed, we go aboard the ZZ spaceship as “Commander Rock” and “Elliot the Ninja.” The key to the songs on this album is the actions. We recently played our first concert, and it was amazing to see how much energy pumps out of the kids! We’re proud to say the audience was covered in sweat! We strived to put all of that energy from a Zing Zangs’ concert into the album.
MCJ: Do you have any evil villains to go with your superhero theme?
T: I’ll tell you what – just for fun – at one of our upcoming concerts we plan on an evil monster to come and try and crash the show. Then we’ll have a rock-off. It will be so epic.
MCJ: How did you get all these cool Kindie guests on it? Quite an impressive list. What was it like working with such talent?
T: It was an honor to work with such great people in the industry and hear our songs with different voices singing them! I was helped by excellent people in the business – like managers, publicists, live show booking management, you name it. I dreamt up “Looking Up at the Stars” last year as a finale song for an album…and to hear all of my favorite Kindie artists that I grew up listening to, singing all together at once, it was truly amazing.
MCJ: How do you guys know each other, in real life? And how did you start making songs?
T: A lot of the songs like “Moustaches” and “Vending Machines” were songs from old homemade movies we made a few years back. We drew comics all the time at school, so we often wrote theme songs for “Pizza Man,” “Kraft Dinner Man,” and “Taco Man.” We’re currently planning out a music video for an unreleased song about [me and Elliot] meeting each other on the playground as 7-year-old kids. This is actually how the two of us met in real life, so I know it will be cool to be able to make [the video], because we’ll both be behind the camera.
MCJ: It was so much fun making the track “Super Speed” with you guys. I love all the synths in the beat during my rap. And I’m happy to say I can’t get the song out of my head! The video looks great, too, especially since we haven’t met once!
MCJ: Basically, I sent some green screen footage of myself rapping. We had me racing in a car as I did my thing. That’s me with a glass pot lid as a steering wheel! Tell us about the process from recording the song and video to working long distance with a Los Angeles artist. Also, what programs do you use?
T: It was so cool to hear your track over our synth sounds and handmade drum beat! The process to make the song involved sending you (Mista Cookie Jar) some basic keywords and lyrics for the rap – and then you sent it back to us “funktified.” That’s a word that will always be used in my personal vocab from now on.
T: “Super Speed” turned out just as we wanted it to be – a homemade-looking indie video of us chasing a cartoon monster around Elliot’s complex. Plus, as a bonus, we had you driving around in a cartoon race-car! The video made its premiere on The Cool Rockin’ Daddy Video Show. For the “Super Speed” video, I animated all of the graphics, titles, and characters with FCPX.
MCJ: Who played what instruments?
T: I played guitar, drums, keyboards, synthesizers, bass, and kazoo solos. We had occasional lead guitars by Jason Didner (of the Jungle Gym Band) and Todd McHatton. And Elliot jumped around to it.
MCJ: What is your songwriting process as a band and individually?
T: I usually come up with the idea for a song first. Then, I try to make up catchy lyrics. And then I write a chord progression that not only sounds good, but is kind of hard to play (that way I can show off when I play concerts)! Although, most of the songs on Blast Off! were written by me and Elliot when we first met.
MCJ: Tell us about your radio show, GooberKidsRadio. How did you get into that business?
T: I’ve always loved entertaining people and when I discovered Kids Place Live it made me want to host my own show…so I found a site that let me broadcast, and that was that.
T: GooberKidsRadio was created in June 2012. I’ve always had a love for entertaining people, and I had a love for Kindie, so when I found a site that let me broadcast live, I immediately started. The show picked up quite a few listeners. I just reached 11,000, I think.
T: Me being a perfectionist, I deleted all of the old episodes and restarted this year with a fresh new format, featuring new music, kid-callers, giveaways, interviews, birthday shout-outs, and characters. Now, with the busyness of The Zing Zangs, I don’t really have the time to sit back and listen to all my favorite artists anymore. So I’m not only hosting it for the listener’s enjoyment, I’m dancing and singing along as I get to hear it too. You can listen to the live broadcast every Thursday at 8pm EST/5pm PST free on GooberKidsRadio.com
MCJ: What are some of your favorite musicians, kids music or otherwise, and how has it influenced you as artists?
T: I have always been into music that doesn’t put people down or anything like that – which is why I automatically liked [Kindie music]. I grew up with The Wiggles, and when I discovered the Imagination Movers, my mind flew out of my head and into the TV. I was taken to a lot of local kids music concerts in Vancouver, like Bobs and LoLo, The Kerplunks, Fred Penner, The Doodlebops. For Kindie influences, I’d say the first few artists that I discovered in the Kindie world were Recess Monkey, Caspar Babypants, Justin Roberts and, of course, The Pop Ups. When I take my mind off of kids stuff, Elliot and I are both really into the rock genre, although I’m more of a new alternative guy like The Black Keys, They Might Be Giants, and Presidents of the United States of America (“PUSA”). Elliot is into the classics like AC/DC and Def Leppard.
T: The Aquabats actually inspired us to make our first album superhero- themed. We were both blown away by their true rock power and zaniness at the same time. That’s the definition of awesome!
MCJ: What are your peers listening to these days?
T: Oh goodness! I think like Rihanna, Lorde, and all the other computer-generated music is big these days.
MCJ: I love how you’re into music that doesn’t put others down. And I think the Zing Zangs go in- line with that. You guys bring a sense of empowerment that is inviting for anyone who seeks it, which is a rare and beautiful thing in this day and age.
MCJ: In your songs there’s something else beyond the music, often a simple or quirky subject matter, like “Vending Machines” about Japanese vending machines or even, “From a Frown,” about your Teddy Bear (which is quite a touching song), that is relatable to so many people — and then the music brings a certain excitement, drama, or magic to that subject.
T: I totally agree. That’s what being zany is about. Not ‘trying to be’ zany. Just ‘being’ it. You get it?
MCJ: Can you speak on being in touch with your “inner zany,” if u will? How does it affect your interactions with others, like friends, peers, fans, public or otherwise?I think zaniness just helps me remember how I don’t fit in – which is PERFECT. Why would I want to be just like the guy across from me in the hallway?
MCJ: For me, being involved in a zany creative process with others, or even sharing a culture, like the Kindie, creates a bond. Having similar humor or appreciation for a certain kind of zany brings an automatic comfort with someone, without even having to “get to know” them, you feel me?
MCJ: You guys bring a primal joy with your music. You can call it the Zing Zang, like a zany fun Yin and Yang. But with more of a Zing of course. How bout Yin Yang Funktified?
T: I think that’s what our next album should be called. Yin/ Yang Funktified.
What’s coming up next for The Zing Zangs?
T: Stay tuned for Mr. Runklestunk (our puppet band manager)’s very own web-series. And also coming up this year (2014), we plan to release our second CD. We’re going for a much simpler approach this year. It will not be superhero-themed but don’t worry, the silliness is all there. Original songs by “Trevor and Elliot” (not Commander and Ninja), plus a bunch of amazing special guests. It will focus more on the kids’ perspective of life, like not wanting to go to bed, and making a best friend. You can stay on top of the news at our website thezingzangs.net. Also, please check out Blast Off! on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby. You ca also purchase the album from our store. Thanks, Cookie!
MCJ:And here are some quickies.
T: Bring it!
T: Bill Cosby’s great!
MCJ:Cosby is definitely one of my favorite’s too. Favorite Weird Al album?
T: “Alpocalypse” 2011
MCJ:Heard good things about that one! Just listened to his Marc Maron interview. Al Yankovic is the man. Favorite Recess Monkey album?
T: Gosh. One of the older ones. Like “Field Trip”.
MCJ:What are you listening to right now?
T: The keys on my keyboard typing this answer. In reality, I’m listening to Zooglobble’s November playlist. Did you see that “Super Speed” got first track? Yes!
MCJ:Any books or novels on your minds?
T: Diary of a Wimpy kid. Jeff Kinney gets me. That and everything by Jarrett J Krosozcka.
T: Shel Silverstein is inspiring.
MCJ:Feel the same way. Favorite board game?
T: MAD, Phineas and Ferb, pretty much all.
MCJ:Do u like Adventure Time?
T: Oh wait, AT is the Bomb!
MCJ:What about Avatar the Last Airbender?
T: Sorry, but there’s only one cartoon better than Adventure Time. You can’t pull me away from an episode of Regular Show.
MCJ:Do you like sketch comedy? Monty Python? Or vaudeville stuff?
T: Back around 2007 there was a small Canadian community access channel show – you know those types? The ones that probably took around $50 to create? There was this homemade sketch comedy show called “That’s So Weird” and it cracked me up.
MCJ: All time favorite album:
T: Always into the latest album that comes out by one of my favorite artists.
MCJ:All time favorite song:
T: There’s nothing better than rockin’ out to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in your jammies.