THEY both wanted to raise up little voices for change, and the music that moved them was the same — hip hop.
“Hip-hop is truth and it's time for us to tell these truths,” says Alphabet Rockers founder Kaitlin Mcgaw.
Formed in 2007, the group from California comprises McGaw and music director Tommy Shepherd. Their latest album, Rise Shine #Woke, has been nominated for Best Children's Album award at the 2018 Grammys.
The album was made in collaboration with thought leaders, activists, educators, children and families dedicated to challenging biases and creating a safer world for everyone.
All lyrics and music in the album are by McGaw and Shepherd.
“The hardest part of independently created music is never creativity — it's always financing and marketing. We are fortunate to have multiple foundations that support our work, as well as the opportunity for crowdsourcing to help us make these groundbreaking albums.
“Lyrics and creation for us are true play. We work with experts in the field to create each song, and as hip hop writers, the word play is always the most fun,” says McGaw.
The album features McGaw and Shepherd, as well as children aged from 4 to 15. Also on the album are American youth poets and children and families across the US and refugee camps in Greece.
After a decade, the duo’s passion to create positive messages and modern beats to help children love who they are, fight bias, and celebrate differences still shines bright. Says McGaw of their first show in 2008: “Our first show was at Dolores Park in San Francisco, and even though we had just released our first album, there were 400 people there! It was amazing to see how much hip hop and children's music made sense — families immediately got into the beats and children loved the way we performed.
“That's when we learnt that children mirror performers dancing — so if you have one hand on a mic, they will pretend they do, too!”
While it's all still original music, and the children and families involved are multicultural, McGaw says there has been some changes.
“Two years ago, we had to start writing about diversity and giving our audience a model for how to talk about race and difference.
“We tested the concepts, and then wrote and shaped our Grammy-nominated album, Rise Shine #Woke, with songs that help all of us stand up for one another.
“Other things that have changed is our show is hot! We have contemporary beats from Grammy-winning producer Street Symphony spun by DJ Wonway Posibul, hip hop choreography from Samara Atkins, inspirational videos, and impactful moments of audience connection.”
When asked if there were any deniers to Alphabet Rockers' message, given the current political scenario, she says: “We were on this path regardless of who would lead our country. America has buried truths and is tongue-tied to name our mistakes and true wrongdoings.
“Many of these issues take form in racial discrimination that continue as a daily and institutional injustice. Since the election, human rights are even more disregarded. We have to fight to be heard, and we have to teach ourselves how to speak up and out after years of tolerance and silence.
“We truly believe this is a part of the culture of childhood in our country, too. It's not fair to shield children from all bad things — and not talk, understand and work together on them — this in itself is a privilege for kids who are not experiencing discrimination and racism. And the result is raising children who don't think it exists.
“We've found even more bravery and openness since we clarified our messaging. Presenters are ready for real art to change the world.
“If folks aren't ready for us, we'll work with those who are, and let them come around in time.”
A FUN MOVEMENT
Winning a Grammy is a dream for many artistes. For McGaw, the nomination is a lifelong dream and accomplishment for Alphabet Rockets.
“But not just for us — for everyone who has worked on this album, from our 8-year-old singer on I'm Proud to the women leaders from Spotlight: Girls who funded that song to serve all girls.
“We are no longer a band, we are a movement. And within us are the intentions of all of our children and families around the world who are seeking new possibilities for connection and change.
“And yes, it is FUN! Becoming a better person and working with others for change has so much joy in it. We bring joy to our most courageous conversations, and we are so excited to bring this to an international platform with this nomination.”
The winner of the best children's album award for 2018 will be announced at the 60th annual Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony at Madison Square Garden on Jan 28.