Dan Zanes is hoping to reconnect the world, one song at a time. The former frontman for the roots-rock band Del Fuegos long ago abandoned...
Dan Zanes is hoping to reconnect the world, one song at a time.
The former frontman for the roots-rock band Del Fuegos long ago abandoned the rock-star life for his new calling — family music. And with his shock of wild hair and his lanky frame hung with suits in Day-Glo colors, Zanes seems an unusual pied piper in the exploding genre of music for kids.
But Zanes, who won a Grammy for best album for children with his 2006 CD “Catch That Train,” and whose videos have been on preschool TV networks Noggin and Playhouse Disney, says his music isn’t just kid stuff.
“It’s fun for both a 40-year-old and a 4-year-old,” he says. “I’m not singing songs about learning to eat with a fork, and I’m not singing about old girlfriends and drinking. It’s somewhere in between.”
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Crafting a kind of amalgam of traditional, folk and world music, Zanes says his goal is to bring the world to children and the generations together.
That Zanes and friends have transcended the “kiddie pop” label is apparent by a recent tour that took them to Europe and Australia.
“That’s a big thing for family music,” Zanes says. “To leave North America is practically unheard of.”
And Zanes recently signed a deal with Playhouse Disney to produce a 30-minute pilot for a TV show with a musical storyline.
Brooklyn-based Zanes began making family music after his daughter, Anna, was born in 1994.
“I wanted music I could connect to and my daughter could connect to,” Zanes says. “It seems the world has become very segregated with everyone in their own room doing their own thing. This is actually the old-fashioned way with everyone doing music together.”
Zanes’ concerts include a varied menu of Jamaican dancehall and reggae and an exploration of Latino music from Mexico and Puerto Rico in anticipation of his upcoming Spanish-language disc.
“This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” Zanes says. “Since I started playing family music, this is the most exciting musical time of my life.”
Zanes is joined on his tour by six other musicians, including hip-hop regular Father Goose.
“By family music standards, it’s an orchestra,” Zanes says. “Everybody plays a lot of different instruments. A lot goes on musically in our shows.”
He recently collaborated with Father Goose, who has been a staple at Zanes concerts for years, on his first CD “It’s a Bam Bam Diddy.” The title track made it to number one on XMKids satellite radio.
“Father Goose always comes out at the end of the concert,” Zanes says. “There’s nothing like it, bringing together West Indian traditions in the spirit of a house party.”
Now Zanes says he has been studying Spanish in anticipation of the new CD, planned for release next month.
“I really love it,” he says. “It’s helped me to understand the Latino culture. New York City is really a bilingual city. People are bringing this rich, incredible culture, and it’s something to be celebrated.”
Zanes says he is worried about the “mean-spirited climate” of the world today and how many people close their minds to other worldviews.
“There are so many interesting cultures,” Zanes says. “Music is like a window into another world. I grew up in New Hampshire in a white monoculture, and to experience all this is so exciting. I believe musicians can build bridges and connect people.”
He says his own childhood was dependent on recorded music to learn about other cultures.
“I could experience a world I knew nothing about,” he says. “With every CD we have an opportunity to create that world for other people.”
He also is an advocate of families including music in their lives every day.
“Music making is something everyone can do,” Zanes says. “Don’t be a casual listener. After a family meal say, ‘Let’s all sing a song.’ It may be awkward at first, but it gets easier and easier. Making music with others always fires my imagination, and it’s fun.”
Zanes promises his concerts will be the same way.
“We ask everybody to sing at the top of their lungs,” Zanes says. “We don’t expect anyone to stay in their seats. This is a big communal event, and it always turns into a big dance party.”