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Hola, Fatherinos! If that’s how you plan to greet your buddies at this year’s Cinco De Mayo fiesta, you need to listen to Lucky Diaz’s playlist of Spanish kids’ music … ahora mismo. Not because it’s educational, as you might assume thanks to all those Sesame Street Spanish lessons from the ’80s (shout out to Maria), but because, as Diaz puts it, “It’s just rad music.”
Diaz was born in Mexico but won critical acclaim, plus a Latin Grammy, in the US after a visit to his parents’ home in San Miguel de Allende with his daughter inspired him to create music to help her connect to her roots. What he found was that the process was also a personal journey for him. “It was more important to me than I gave it credit for,” he says. Now, Diaz and his Family Jam Band, which he fronts with his wife, Alisha Gaddis, are at the forefront of a niche within a niche (Spanish Kindie … Kindito?), spinning traditional Latin music forward for a new generation that doesn’t necessarily speak the language. He just assumed that audience was your 4-year-old and not necessarily, you know, you. But hey, it’s Cinco De Mayo, and on this day, everyone needs to know the words, “Piñata attack! Whack whack whack!”
Moona LunaThe Song: “Vamos, Let’s Go!”
Why It Rocks: Hearing this track, which blends surf rock, English, Spanish, and Chicano styles, helped Diaz realize what kind of music he wanted to make. “Our Spanish record came out around the same time and my first reaction was, ‘Why didn’t I make this?’ I told my wife, ‘Get a load of this. I wanna be on this bus to awesometown!'”
Sonia De Los SantosThe Song: “Monterrey”
Why It Rocks: Hearing the Brooklyn-based De Los Santos play this homage to her city at a festival in that city hit home for Diaz. “It’s gorgeous, she has a beautiful voice, and it represents what Spanish language children’s artists should be striving to make: wonderful musicianship and high-quality production.”
The Song: “Eres Tú”
Why It Rocks: Morrison is a Latin Grammy-winning artist from Arizona leading a new era in Mexican indie-pop. “There’s much more to Mexican music than mariachis,” Diaz says. “Carla comes from a brand new tradition that sounds like it could’ve come from Williamsburg or any of those ‘cool’ places.” With a title that sounds like it came from Tommy Boy. It definitely didn’t.
Julieta VenegasThe Song: “Ese Camino”
Why It Rocks: Cut from the same Mexico City indie-pop mold as Morrison, Venegas uses accordions and other traditional Mexican sounds to make crafty, 3-minute pop songs. In other words, the exact length your kid’s attention span can handle.
Why It Rocks: LaFourcade completes the trio of powerhouse female vocalists driving Mexican pop, and may be the most successful. She won 5 Latin Grammys in 2015, including Record and Song of the Year. “She’s so cool,” says Diaz, “yet she sings a song about ducks with no pretense and it’s just so great.” True. From now on, the duck says, “Cua cua,” kids!
José-Luis OrozcoThe Track: “De Colores”
Why It Rocks: The famed children’s author and educator bought traditional, Romantico style Mexican children’s music to the US and performs educational music in transformative fashion. Diaz has covered this tune, which he says just makes you happy. However, he admits, “Orozco is a genius; he’s already forgotten more than I’ll ever know about anything, especially Spanish children’s music. He’s the king.”
Los LobosThe Track: “Heigh-Ho”
Why It Rocks: East LA’s kings of Chicano rock are largely responsible for exposing American audiences to the style. As a kid, Diaz identified with them because, hey, “La Bamba!” Your kids will feel the same thanks to this Disney cover. Though not exactly deep cuts, either entry point is cool with Diaz — “As long as they recognize how cool Los Lobos are.”
Lalo GuerreroThe Track: “Los Chucos Suaves”
Why It Rocks: Without Guerrero, this playlist doesn’t exist and your Cinco De Mayo soundtrack sucks. He pioneered the zoot-suited Pachuco sound of the ’40s that eventually became California chicano culture: low riders, surf rock, and awesome Lucky Diaz songs about smashing piñatas. (“It’s my On The Road. That’s so wrong … and right.”) Guerrero was literally a national treasure, declared so by the Smithsonian Institute in 1980. This song is about dancing. Yup, that simple.
Flaco JimenezThe Track: “El Puente Roto”
Why It Rocks: This Diaz collaborator is another chicano legend who’s worked with everyone from Los Lobos to Dwight Yoakam and the Rolling Stones. His Tejano sound, incredible accordion playing, and voice are as unmistakable as, well, all those guys he’s played with.
Los Amigos InvisiblesThe Track: “La Que Me Gusta”
Why It Rocks: This is one of those songs you instantly know, even if you don’t. At least that was the experience for Diaz’s wife while strolling past a coffee shop a cobblestone street in San Miguel Allende. Your kids will be unable to resist bopping along with this Venezuelan dance pop outfit, which means you’re definitely about to know it by heart, on repeat.
Texas TornadosThe Track: “(Hey Baby) Que Paso”
Why It Rocks: Diaz is a proponent of Spanglish (“Spanish music for people that aren’t Spanish speakers”), as is this Tejano supergroup. Their San Antonio anthem is “Just a funny song about a guy talking to his girlfriend about ‘What happened?’ It’s family-friendly fun. Nobody gets shot.” You’re welcome for the new tourism slogan, San Antonio.
La Santa CeciliaThe Track: “Strawberry Fields Forever”
Why It Rocks: The Beatles are the original children’s musicians, and now your kid can enjoy them as never before: reinvented as a protest song for California field workers using quintessentially Mexican instrumentation and tempo changes. Or that will go over their head and they’ll just crave strawberries. Mmm, strawberry margarita …
Ozomatli & OzokidsThe Track: “Changito”
Why It Rocks: If you want to educate your kids through experience rather than words, play some Ozomatli and watch them bang away on anything they can turn into a drum. (Disclaimer: May include any and all parts of Papa.) “I don’t know what the genesis of their children’s record was, but I hope they make another one,” says Diaz. “We need more of that.”
Dan Zanes & Friends ft. The Villa-Lobos BrothersThe Track: “Colas”
Why It Rocks: Does anyone not love Dan Zanes? The guy can meld his alt country twang with anything, but Diaz says sincerity is what makes Zanes a kid favorite. “Kids see past disingenuous work. There’s no pretense — they like it or they don’t.” When the LA Chicano says the dude from New Hampshire “made me feel good about being Mexican,” clearly something’s working.
123 AndrésThe Track: “If I Had A Mariachi”
Why It Rocks: A creative, simple, sincere track with a universal, fun-loving theme executed and produced perfectly by a lovable guy who plays the saxophone. “Checks all the boxes,” Diaz says. It only could have been better if it somehow included tacos.
Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam BandThe Tracks: “Sol Solecito,” “Pescado Asustado”
Why They Rock: One of these tracks transforms a traditional Mexican children’s song for a new generation discovering music in general for the first time. The other is about a frightened fish and was written on a napkin while Diaz was out to dinner with his mom. Either way, your kid is learning lessons for life.
For all of the above, plus even more of Lucky Diaz’s favorite Spanish family tunes, check out the full playlist.