Environment breeds music. Slaves sang spirituals (despite what Blazing Saddles portrayed), impoverished Okies sang folk tunes, British mods inspired Quadrophenia. The groundbreaking Free to Be: You and Me injected social commentary into children’s music in the early 1970s and demonstrated that young minds could multitask just as well as teens and adults.
In the intervening decades, social justice has not only gained a name but a game strategy as well. Crowdsourcing allows musicians to band together with like-minded people who celebrate, educate, and course correct. Alastair Moock has taken that tactic with his newest release, Be a Pain. The title mockingly refers to such people as Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Billie Jean King. (“She was a King who was also a pain,” he insists.)
When society’s norms are stretched to their limits, children’s music gets more insightful as the songwriters and performers stress the importance of personal freedom, family, and individuality. Activism reacts like a rubber band.
The messages on Be a Pain are forthright and brutally honest from an adult perspective. But they also trend as first-rate kid’s motivational songs, such as “Kids Can Do Great Things” (with Kris Delmhorst), “What Is a Leader?” (featuring Rani Arbo), and the conquering hate anthem, “Lead With Love” (with Melanie DeMore). If pressed for a representative track, I would highlight “No Wall (Ninguana Pared),” sang in English and Spanish by Alastair with Sol y Canto and Alisa Amador:
There’s no wall between an ending and a start
There’s no wall between the sunshine and the dark
There’s no us, there’s no them
All walls fall down in the end
There’s no wall that keeps us all apart
Alastair heard the clarion call of activism not long after embarking on his career as a children’s musician a decade ago, including a remarkable CD dedicated to his young daughter’s fight with pediatric cancer, Singing Our Way Through. That led to All Kids of Me and You, about gender roles, ethnicity, and identity. With his band of merry mini-influencers, Alastair seeks to stem injustice and preach to the warmness of each human soul.
Alastair Moock and the change-makers on Be a Pain lean more towards heartwarming than heartbreaking. Bringing about change requires more than nickels and dimes. Isn’t a childhood worth more than that? Alastair strives to bring his message to more underserved communities, which suffer from cuts to arts funding. To that end, Be a Pain was funded by a campaign that guarantees a free enrichment program to a school or Head Start program for every $1000 raised. It’s still going—here’s the link again. The closing song, “What We Tell Our Children,” includes a list of common refrains, ending with “Remember to share.” Including music? Well, who wouldn’t?
Here is the video for Alastair’s song “Be a Pain”: