By Jason Didner, Children’s Musician, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam
If you came of age in the 20th Century as I did, you may have an understandably negative initial reaction to the idea of music made for kids. Annoying TV soundtracks may come to mind, along with indistinguishable repetitive versions of nursery rhymes half-heartedly performed and produced.
But we as parents in 2016 have a beautiful smorgasbord of fresh, energetic family music right at our fingertips that our own moms & dads couldn’t have found anywhere on the radio or in a record store back in the day. A movement got underway in the mid-90s where families in big cities or a few lucky suburbs could take their kids to live shows by such pioneers in kids’ music as The Laurie Berkner Band and Dan Zanes in New York and Justin Roberts in Chicago. If you were fortunate enough to catch one of these shows, you might take their CD home for a perfectly enjoyable whole-family listening session in the kitchen or in the car.
As the Internet grew in popularity and even became a means of distributing CDs worldwide, more and more of these independent musicians for kids (kindie for short), became a presence beyond where they could perform live. With just enough publicity, they could sell their CDs anywhere that people wanted their music. And this music wasn’t just made by unknown artists. Notable artists like They Might Be Giants, Lisa Loeb and Chris Ballew (singer from Presidents of the United States of America, now making kids’ music under the stage name Caspar Babypants) were making exceptional new records for kids and their grown-ups – stunning arrangements, brilliant lyrics, heartfelt vocals, everything a parent – and a child – can hope for at the same time.
As the new century progressed, there’s been an explosion of quality music for kids and families; we now live in an era that family writer Jeff Bogle (Out with the Kids) calls “the Golden Age of children’s music.”
You can’t even really call the kindie movement a genre, because there are so many genres making up the movement; we’re really exposing the children to an astonishing variety, and it’s crossing demographic lines like nothing I could have imagined. There are rock songs with rap battle-ready hip-hop breakdowns in the middle. There’s kindie jazz, folk, funk, country, punk, powerpop, electronica, hip-hop, pop, bluegrass, soul, and any combination of these genres you can imagine, sometimes out of a single band, sometimes even within a single album.
And the lyrical content runs the gamut from educational (check out They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science album) to storytelling and emotional (any album by post-punk powerpop rockers Chibi Kodama will raise your family’s emotional intelligence level by at least 50 points if you listen closely and then talk about what you heard over dinner!) Justin Roberts absolutely nails the emotions of childhood, from being the young daydreamer in the outfield hoping the ball isn’t hit to him, to valuing the family dog’s brilliant emotional intelligence in ‘Every Little Step.’
Many kindie songs encourage literacy by offering creative musical adaptations of classic children’s books. Check out Miss Nina’s Brown Bear Rap and Emily Arrow’s The Dot Song for an experience that brings books to life.
Kindie rappers bring all the skills of big-time MC’s but their lyrics are way beyond just kid friendly or kid safe. These lyrics are pumped full of awesome, thorough messages for kids about self respect, understanding other people, engaging the imagination, checking off all the most important boxes of character education. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (GRAMMY nominated), Alphabet Rockers and Mista Cookie Jar bring the kindie hip-hop goodness you won’t want to miss.
Want to get funky in the family car? Dial up some Sugar Free Allstars – an Oklahoma-based duo that proudly wears its James Brown influence (and throws in a little Deep Purple to keep things interesting). For a touch of sweet soul music for kids & families, check out Shine and the Moonbeams. How about giving kids a way into jazz music? You can look to L.A.’s Jazzy Ash (who has deep roots in New Orleans, Louisiana) or Montreal’s GRAMMY winner, Jennifer Gasoi for an authentic and truly enjoyable cultural family experience. Latin and bilingual music are a natural fit for kindie music, as evidenced by Latin Grammy winners Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band and Mister G. The energy from 123 Andrés is also dazzling and catchy.
I’m just scratching the surface here. There is so much great music for kids and families to discover. Hours and hours of incredible music filled with incredible messages. My early experiences with listening to these brilliant creations along with my then-1-year-old daughter inspired me to use my musical skills to create kindie music of my own. My wife Amy and I started writing lyrics about our early parenting experiences and The Jungle Gym Jam was born in our home state of New Jersey, where we combine the authentic Jersey Rock sound with our observations, hopes and humor about family life, parenting and childhood.
I encourage you to continue exploring the amazing world of 21st century ‘kindie’ music with your family and tell us about your experiences with it in the comments below.
About the Author: Jason Didner is a dad to a very energetic 5-year-old. He and his wife Amy write lyrics about their parenting experiences and Jason sets it to music. In addition to making music for kids, Jason’s committed to helping other family musicians advance their careers. He hosts a podcast called ‘Make Kindie Happen’ and keeps a blog about the New Jersey children’s music scene. Jason is also learning on the job along with daughter Holly how to properly care for goldfish.