Ozomatli (Photo/Christian Lantry)

Ozomatli on a mission to make kids’ tunes cool

Eclectic Grammy-winning band, Ozomatli, most known for tooting their horns and singing and jumping for social issues such as immigration and gang violence, is now dedicating time to children. Their first children’s album, “Ozomatli Presents OzoKidz” is set to release next month. The new 14-track album has all the familiar elements of the LA-based band — sounds of funk, merengue, rock, hip hop, and cumbia, all mashed together. This time though, they are singing about how trees grow and the importance of exercise, among other issues important to the younger versions of ourselves.

“We were looking at our audience, and our fans were multiplying and having babies,” says Mexican-American singer of the band, Asdrubal Sierra. “A lot of them stopped coming to the shows, because they couldn’t find sitters.”

Sierra and the other members of the band also started having kids, and one day he asked his daughter (who was 8 at the time) if she would sing with him a bilingual song he was writing called “Piraña.”

“It was such a special moment with me and my daughter,” says Sierra, 40, about the time he brought her to sing on stage with him. “All the kids were like, ‘That’s so awesome! She’s up there singing with her dad!’ Something really resonated with me.”

He says he began thinking that there are Disney movies that parents can enjoy with their kids; why not music, too?

“I remember listening to kids’ music when my kids were growing up, and it was like ‘Oh my God this is really kiddie sounding,’” says Sierra. “Why do we have to suffer through weird kiddie sounding stuff?”

He says there’s nothing like seeing parents dancing along with their kids.

“One song we talk about germs, another, birthdays, and we introduce all the instruments,” says Sierra. “It’s about participating, not just watching. We take it to the next level. The guys go out into the crowd.”

He says their songs are either silly, or with a message, just like their adult records.

“Just that the silly part gets a little sillier,” says Sierra. “We always heard that the kids loved ‘Chango’ – ‘Changito’ [a track on ‘OzoKidz] is a reinterpretation for the kids.”

He’s excited to tour for the kids, because he says it will be during the day, and then they can play again at night for the adults.

Wil-Dog, Ozomatli’s non-Hispanic bass player who has his own banda band, where he sings in Spanish, in addition to playing for Ozomatli, says he hopes their children’s franchise becomes its own entity where they have concerts with a youth-friendly stage and area.

“As they grow and learn these concepts in their daily life, they will feel like they already learned that,” he says about how we all learn subliminally. “For me, it has to be repeated over and over to get the idea…I want to get better at Spanish so I’m taking lessons.”

Wil-Dog, 39, says PBS helped them so much to develop their children’s songs, because they did a set of children’s programming for the channel before working on “OzoKidz” – with themes including the five senses, grammar, and measurement.

“Us being fathers, we’re always telling our kids to wash their hands,” he says. “So we write about germs, but then we learned something – there’s good germs too. It’s not all negative…Songs come out naturally, we don’t force the direction of the tunes. They’re about what we are going through at that time.”

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