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Dan And Claudia Zanes Sing About Justice And Joy On Their New Album For Children

Claudia and Dan Zanes
Claudia and Dan Zanes

Social justice, anti-racism and joy: These are the themes of a collection of original songs written by family musicians Dan and Claudia Zanes. Smithsonian Folkways has just released their first duo album, Let Love Be Your Guide. It's filled with uplifting messages.

"It's an anthem of love and joy and possibility and community," Claudia says, speaking from their home in Baltimore.

The title track is an homage to the late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. The husband/wife duo say they were inspired by the words Lewis wrote in his final New York Times opinion piece, published the day of his funeral.

"He says, 'So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide,'" Claudia says.

"That's a manual for life right there in one sentence," Dan adds.

Love was the guide for Dan Zanes, who's known as the godfather of the children's music renaissance. The former lead singer of the 1980s rock band the Del Fuegos, Zanes founded the anti-racist organization Constructive White Conversations. Five years ago, a friend introduced him to jazz vocalist Claudia Eliaza, a music therapist whose family is Haitian American.

"We got together and sang that whole afternoon, the day we met, I knew at that moment that Claudia was the person that I'd been dreaming about my whole life," he says.

"Aw, yes," Claudia adds, "and we've been making music ever since."

One of their songs is a duet called "Two Different Worlds."

"It was important for us as an interracial couple to to speak from our our two perspectives," says Dan, "really with the belief that young people are hungry for this. Young people and families want to be talking about these things."

Their album of electric folk songs and singalongs are in English, Creole and Spanish. There are touches of gospel, country, R&B and traditional Haitian music. Some of the tracks include rappers praising Claudia as a Black Queen, and their friend's children lending their giggles to a fun bilingual song about getting tickled.

Other songs were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. One urges people to build bridges; another, to pay reparations to descendents of slaves.

The idea for this album began last year, after the Zanes moved from Brooklyn to Baltimore. The coronavirus pandemic forced them and everyone else to stay home. But after George Floyd was killed by police, they joined the protests outside.

"People were having these deep conversations about social justice and racial issues here in America," Claudia recalls.

Dan says they admired the protesters. "People taking to the streets, that was love," he says. "People demanding change, that was love. People asking other folks to wake up, to listen. That was love."

They wanted to contribute to those intergenerational conversations. So every day they went online to sing folk and gospel songs. They called it their "Social Isolation Song Series."

They kept it going going 200 days, "as things heated up in the world, and issues around racial justice in particular were just so much at the forefront," Dan says.

"Sometimes we just couldn't find that right song," adds Claudia. "We had to write it ourselves."

One of those songs, "Coming Down," is an anthem for social justice:

White supremacy
Coming down
Bars of oppression
Coming down

Hierarchies
Coming Down
Someday we could all be free

Fans from the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Medfield Choir responded by posting their own version.

Dan and Claudia Zanes say this kind of positive reaction to their music keeps them optimistic about the future. "There is no shortage of bad news around us," Claudia says, "so where we can find joy and laughter as a revolutionary act, and to say, you know, we're not gonna be overtaken by fear, pessimism."

"Everybody's thinking about new beginnings and new possibilities," Dan adds. "So many things haven't worked. But what can we do to make them work?"

And in fact, "New Beginnings" is the title of one of the songs on their album.

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