Ozomatli, Pinker Tones And Other Latin Alternative Acts Dive Into Kids' Music

The Saturday crowd at the Echoplex in Los Angeles was getting antsy as it waited for Ozomatli to hit the stage for a recent show.

When the bilingual band finally appeared, it received an enthusiastic reception from audience members, who shook tambourines and maracas that they had purchased at the merch table.

The clock had just struck 12-as in noon.Who'd want to hit a club at midday? Excited 3- and 4-year-olds, along with dancing parents, who were holding babies wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Children's music in Spanish has become increasingly plentiful in the United States as a tool for bilingual learning, often sung by non-Spanish speakers, and most often accompanied by distinctly Latin beats like salsa.

Now, as a bilingual hipster crowd that for the past decade supported the growth of the Latin alternative movement become parents, artists who come under the diverse heading of "Latin alternative" are getting into the kids' music game with family concerts and new children's albums. Call it "Latin kindie."

For Ozomatli, an L.A. band known for its mix of hip-hop, rock, Latin rhythms and social activism, the idea to perform music for young audiences was inspired by a poorly attended concert at the House of Blues in Chicago.

Ozomatli bassist Wil-Dog Abers recalls that the band literally couldn't give away tickets, having offered free admission to the show to local fans through Facebook.

"People were saying, 'We'd love to but we can't get a babysitter,' " Abers says. "We asked each other, 'Should we get day care on site?' And then we thought, 'Let's do a kids' album.' "

New York-based Pistolera also took a cue from fans who were bringing their kids to shows. "Piñata Party," the band's first album as Moona Luna, its family-focused alter ego, dropped March 15 on the NewSound Kids label.

"It's really a reflection of my own experience as a mother," Pistolera/Moona Luna frontwoman Sandra Velasquez says of the bilingual songs on the album. "In my household we speak both languages, and that's the reality of a lot of Latinos in the USA and people who listen to our music."

Spanish duo the Pinker Tones, both recent dads, found themselves performing at a 10-year-old's birthday party in January after running a fan contest on their website.

Recognizing the band's potential for family appeal, Target asked the Nacional Records act to contribute a song to the retail chain's free, download-only 2010 holiday album, "The Christmas Gig." And after performing at Sonar Kids, an offshoot of the successful Sonar dance music festival in their native Barcelona, the Pinker Tones are now recording a children's album for Nacional.

Ozomatli is also in the studio, recording an EP to sell at the band's upcoming schedule of "Ozokidz" shows, which have met with unexpectedly quick but welcome success.

"We're always looking for new ways to make a living, because you can't just depend on one thing any more," Ozomatli percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi says. "If Ozokidz becomes a lucrative thing, it's absolutely something that we're looking at to help sustain us as a business."