Kids who grew up in the 1980s inevitably have some knowledge of Raffi, the singer known as “Canada’s all-time children’s champion” (Toronto Star, 1966). In those days, Raffi was the genre. Today, the landscape of children’s music is a bit different. “Baby Beluga” grads might get a nostalgic kick out of playing the champ’s mellifluous melodies again, but they’ll be choosing from a wider pool of performers for their own brood.
Stephanie Mayers has been playing music for her two-year-old daughter, Norah, since she was in the womb. But Mayers’ own education began well before her pregnancy. She used to work in Philadelphia at World Café Live, where she produced the children’s concert series Peanut Butter and Jams. She’s now at Festival Five Records, and also the executive producer of KindieFest, a G-rated version of Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. Within her various roles, she’s witnessed the rise of children’s music firsthand. “Now, pretty much every musical genre and subgenre exists within kids’ music,” she says.
Mayers attributes its growing popularity to the fact that today’s parents grew up listening to more diverse and niche music than their own parents and want to foster a similar interest in their kids. The digital revolution has also played a role in shaping the scene, making children’s music more accessible. “It used to be very regional, with every town having that one great kid band and the locals wondering why its members weren’t rich and famous,” she says.
In one sense, though, children’s music is still old-fashioned. While it’s common to see sixth-graders bobbing their heads along to whatever’s playing on their iPods, toddlers are incapable of curating their own collections, and so listening to children’s music is still a communal experience. Much like a Pixar movie, there are clever elements parents can enjoy. “Sometimes the parents are actually the biggest fans; they have a fuller appreciation of the experience they’re having with their kids,” says Mayers.
Kindiefest 2012, which kicks off this Friday, April 27, in Brooklyn, is a great place to experience it all live. The first two days constitute an industry-only showcase (Yo Gabba Gabba is the keynote speaker), but starting Sunday, doors to a full festival with a seven-band lineup open to the public. Can’t make it? Check out some of Mayers’ picks below