Lucky Díaz Hits the Musical Note on the Head
Lucky Díaz Hits the Musical Note on the Head
By Ramón Hernández
All year long, Lucky Díaz, his wife, Broadway performer Alisha Gaddis, their daughter Ella and his Family Jam Band are aqui, alla and everywhere touring from California’s west coast to the east coast of New York.
Above all, the Latin Grammy award winners are performing children’s music to sell-out crowds at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts near Vienna, Virginia plus other nationally known prestigious venues while established popular Tejano acts struggle to find gigs due to a decreasing number of Tejano music venues.
The difference is that nationally touring Lucky Díaz and the Family Jam Band indie rock band from Los Angeles, which is hailed as “the best band on the children’s scene” by USA Today and CBS, is churning out No. 1 and Top 10 kid’s hit tunes such as “Lines and Dots,” “Thinamajig,” “What Ya Say?” and “Shimmy.”
But in spite of rave reviews of their first five compact discs, numerous articles in the print medium and cyberspace; plus awards, accolades and other honors that fill up an entire page, they have never performed in Texas.
The truth is that their calendar is jam packed with dates for Mystic, Connecticut; the Center for ARTS Natick in Boston, Wilmington, Delaware; Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., the Chesapeake Arts Center in Baltimore, St. Louis, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma, Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon; to name a few – and for some of them, they did eight shows in four days.
If one follows the Family Jam Band on Facebook, on July 11 Lucky posted, “36 shows in 42 days – over 20,000 kiddos dancing! And we aren’t done yet.”
That’s pretty impressive for a band that Lucky started five years ago and in 2010 released Luckiest Adventure followed by Oh Lucky Day in 2011 and A Potluck in 2012. The latter was ranked as the #1 Cool Kids Album by People magazine and USA Today.
After that fans urged Lucky to explore his Latin American heritage in his songs and they recorded ¡Fántastico! Without planning it, that CD, which was appropriately released on Cinco de Mayo, found a new audience of families yearning to see their children be bilingual.
“When we performed at the Clive Davis Theater at the Grammy Museum (Sept. 14, 2013) and the kids saw me, they were able to see someone like them. We need to give them inspiration that ‘hey, I can do that too.’ This was something that kids like us, with immigrant parents, needed,” Lucky said during a telephone from his Silver Lake, California home.
This is one of the many accomplishments of the son of migrant farm workers who marched alongside César Chávez in the 1970s, yet when Lucky and his siblings were children, they grew up listening to a mixed mash of the Beach Boys, the Beatles “Here, There and Everywhere” and others.
“Things like racism bring families down, but my parents, Héctor and Irene Díaz, had hope for my brother, José Carlos, and I. But as it turned out, my brother went on to work in Liverpool and is now the curator of the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach; and I never dreamed that I would be traveling and winning awards. That’s why I tell kids to go to college and be someone.”
A true role model, who practices what he preaches, Lucky completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Berklee College of Music and Alisha is a BFA graduate of the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and she completed performance studies at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Hence they believe that the goal of every child should be to study and become a chef instead of a cook, a doctor instead of a nurse or the owner of a store instead of being a cashier. Otherwise, the day will come when Hispanics/Latinos become a majority in numbers, but still be treated as a minority.
Lucky is 5-feet-10-inches tall, has a full beard, a hairy chest and a gorgeous wife is therefore masculine. So what is he doing performing kiddie songs?
“We need to let kids be children as long as they can be. Children’s art is complex and does not get respect. So you really have to think about the lyrics. You have to think about happiness and write happy songs. My daughter, who is ten and named after Ella Fitzgerald, has been doing this since she was two; and why do I do it? I just love it. I think kids are the biggest listeners because they don’t judge, but you have to be honest because you’re connecting with the kids and they can sense when you’re not honest,” said the ultra-enthusiastic kid at heart.
Mindy Thomas of Sirius XM stated that ¡Fántastico! set the standard for Spanish-language music for kids. In the process, this CD made Lucky Díaz and the Jam Family Band “the very first Americans to ever win a Latin Grammy for “Best Children’s Album.”
Next, following the success of Lishy Lou and Lucky Too, the husband-wife duo and their band showcased at Kindiefest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and spent the summer touring with more than 50 dates in three months and this does not include the demand to appearance in numerous television programs.
Now the singer-songwriter-musician is set to conquer Texas with the recent release of Aqui, Alla in which he draws from his Tejano influences.
You see, Lucky, who although was born in Miami where his older sister married a Cuban gentleman, spent countless three-month summer vacations with his uncles and aunts in San Antonio and Devine, Texas where he was weaned on Tejano music and was influenced by Flaco Jiménez, Little Joe, Sunny and the Sunliners plus Selena.
“I practically grew up in San Antonio and I consider myself a Tejano,” Lucky continued. “I wanted to make a record with a really cool idea.”
The result is Aqui, Alla, which unlike their previous Spanish-language reworking of their English-language hits and “De Colores,” is made up of all new original tunes.
The album kicks off with the festive, rocking, contagious “Viva La Pachanga,” a rousing dance number guaranteed to get everyone out on the floor features Flaco Jiménez on accordion. Furthermore, the lyrics are so simply that you’ll immediately be able to sing along.
“Orale” an excellent instrumental with touches of mariachi, starts off with haunting, scary sounding, “orale, orale,” then goes into a fast paced percussion driven beat followed by Gilbert Velásquez playing a killer rock-edged guitar, is an exclamatory tune playing homage to the Southern California “Rampart Sound” of the 1960s.
“La Pequeña Araña” will go down in music history as the ‘first Spanish-language version’ of the old nursery rhyme of a certain ambitious itsy bitsy spider.
“Cantaba La Rana” is a riveting, bouncy, 1960s bubblegum music type tune that will have your kids hopping with joy; and don’t be surprised if the infectious beat does not bring out the child inside you and give you the impulse to dance along with your young ones. And don’t be surprised if mobile DJs wind up playing this feel-happy song at family gatherings, rivet.
Rubén Ramos’ spine chilling “Hui, hui, ay viene el cucuy. Watch it now, watch it now, here it comes” starts off “El Cucuy” in a tune about the Mexican bogeyman that is sure to become a Halloween party favorite.
“Tu Eres Amor” is a sugary, mushy love ballad for those experiencing their first tinges of ‘puppy love.’
“Vamos a Contar” has such a great, good ole 1950s old school rock tune with enough doo wops that it will take you to the good ole days in what is the most commercial song in this CD.
The title tune is a touching; moving song about a dual culture in which both Mexican nationals and Americans of Mexican descent, sadly but true, find differences in each other as Lucky sings:
Yo naci aqui y uste nacio alla (“I was born here and you were born there [indicating Mexico])
Aprendi una idioma que uste no entiende (I learned a language that you don’t understand)
Soy de aqui y soy de alla también (I’m from here, but also from there)
Somos de aqui y somos de alla también (We’re both from here, but also from there) …
“This was the most important song for me and I hope somebody covers it,” Lucky said of the song that is going hit a chord with Mexicans and Tejanos.
The album ends with “De Colores,” a traditional Mexican song featuring David Lee Garza on accordion.
“Recording this album was a dream come true and my parents cannot believe that Flaco was in the recording session,” the Latin Grammy winner said.
Incidentally, both his parents now live here, where his father owns an air conditioning business and his mother is a visual artist, who goes by the moniker of Nenoo. In fact, one of her painting, “Felicidad,” won first place in the “Spirit of San Antonio” contest.
Getting back to the CD, other Tejano musicians who participated in this album were Carlos Álvarez, vihuela; Noe A. Benitez on tenor saxophone; and Christina Martínez-Benitez on trumpet and background vocals.
Following their appearance on CNN En Español’s “Showbiz,” the program’s host remarked, “You are going to instil a desire to hear music in Spanish in children and adolescents who live in this country.”
Another critic noted that in an era where some of the most notable artists in the American mainstream have reached their highest level of success recording kid-friendly music, it is refreshing to see Tejanos following similar trends. And Mr. Shepard at www.zooglobble.com/blog/2014/7/18/itty-bitty-review-aqui-alla-lucky-diaz-and-the-family-jam-band said, “Lucky merged indie-pop with Tejano and created a new genre: Indie-jano” thus coining a new music genre.
This writer could go on and on about this ground-breaking, out-of-the-box CD featuring the Tejano legends that Lucky grew up with, but let it suffice to say, “how can you miss not being nominated for another Grammy when this production includes a 13-time Grammy winner, a five-time, a two-time and two one-time Grammy Award winners.
“I was surrounded by great artists. Tejano culture is so important because it’s a good mix of Americana and that why I also appreciate Los Texmaniacs,” Lucky added.
To find out the magnitude of Lucky and the Family Jam Band’s popularity and their achievements, check out the following websites: www.luckydiazmusic.com, www.facebook.com/pages/Lucky-Diaz-and-the-Family-Jam-Band/182600891967, http://queentickets.worldcafelive.com/event/450931-lucky-diaz-wilmington (great biographical article), http://owtk.com/2013/06/lucky-diaz-and-the-family-jam-bands-fantastico-year, www.sanantoniomomblogs.com/summer-resources-for-dual-language-kids, http://mommasbacon.com/2014/05/05/lucky-diaz-and-the-family-band-aqui-alla-cd-all-ages and if you Google them, in at least a dozen other websites. In addition their videos are all over YouTube.
To book Lucky Díaz and the Family Jams Band, e-mail him via his website.