Like a children’s menu in a restaurant offering bland, easy-to-digest alternatives to the real thing, music aimed at children is all too often trite and one dimensional. Both chef and musician think: the cheesier, the better! Of course, some compromises do need to be made, but a lack of sophistication in the audience should not mean a lack of quality in the music. Thankfully, the days of ham-fisted, guitar-wielding singers and Yamaha DX7 chimes are behind us. The renaissance in children’s music continues, sales are high (in an otherwise stagnant market) and established bands are giving it serious consideration.
For example, Grammy-winning, LA-based Ozomatli, have created a side project just for kids, Ozokidz. Known for smart, socially-aware lyrics and a high-energy blend of Latin, hip-hop, rock, funk, salsa, reggae; Ozomatli have produced six albums since forming in 1995. Ozokidz is their first offering targeted at children and it is a high-energy party from start to finish. The grooves are very varied, but none fail to make your body move. Dorian – not the most active kid – played the album twice in succession and jumped, span, ran and bounced around the house throughout. I can’t deny joining him. Excitement is maintained by the use of a wide variety of sounds. Most bands use a fairly consistent set of tones throughout an album (and possibly the lifetime of the band), but on Ozokidz each song is treated individually, i.e. the drums on We Are The Ozokidz sound like a real drumkit in the room, bringing the band and the kids together; on Sun and Moon an other-worldliness is suggested by light, electronic drums; the drums on Like Your Birthday rock the party with booming club-ready kick drum. For the short attention spans of young children, this type of variety is very appealing. The overall production is very modern – brash, clean and crisp – which suits the music and ties everything together.
Lyrically, the band take three different approaches:
Firstly, there are straight-ahead educational songs such as What Makes a Tree Grow?, Germs, Water and Spelling; all fairly self-explanatory. These suffer from the vocals being somewhat buried by the musical accompaniment. Part of the power music has as a learning tool is its ability to stand up to lots of repetition. This CD will get a lot of play, so imagine ideas will sink in over time. After hearing how “some germs can help us be healthy,” Dorian said, “I didn’t know that,” so we talked about bacteria breaking down food in his stomach. The second approach deals with day-to-day life. What may seem mundane to adults can be daunting to kids, so it is great to see their lives reflected in song. Let’s go to the Movies, Skateboard and Piraña talk through going out with friends, hobbies and overcoming fears (in this case, water). Finally, there are silly songs Moose on the Loose, Balloonfest and Changito (Monkey dance). Combined with the party atmosphere of the band, these do not fail.
Ozokidz is top quality music that happens to be aimed at children; exactly how kid’s music should be. Dorian and I love this CD and I recommend it completely. You’ll be dancing for weeks.
Also, if you have the opportunity, check out an Ozokidz live show. The party atmosphere is amazing and all comes from the music, not silly costumes and gimmicks. The band are all great musicians and their love of playing music is infectious. If you are in the SF Bay Area, Ozokidz play the Fillmore on December 8th.