World music fans with children (like me) are all too aware that there's a pretty serious paucity of great world music CDs that are geared towards kids. There are some gems, for sure, but they're few and far between. Now, sure, of course a kid can listen to music that isn't specifically made for kids (as I've heard pointed out a million times by people who doesn't actually have children), but there's a reason that every culture that has ever existed on the entire earth has produced a body of folk songs intended for children's ears -- with simpler words, child-friendly themes, good sing-along bits, accompanying games, etc. -- this is how we teach our culture to kids. It always has been. The existence of designated children's music is a natural piece of human culture. Therefore, my tolerance of really bad children's music is low. Music for kids is important stuff!
Thus, it's always my sincere pleasure when I come across a new one that I think is excellent (and, it should be noted, my toddler does, too). It's not really a surprise in this case, since Rabbit Days and Dumplings is a release from Festival Five Records, the label owned and run by children's music favorite Dan Zanes, and that label has yet to disappoint me. Elena Moon Park has been a member of the Dan Zanes and Friends band for over five years. She's a Korean-American who was born and raised in East Tennessee by immigrant parents, and her background in a variety of American music has really informed her sound.
Rabbit Days and Dumplings collects 16 children's songs from around East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Tibet) and serves them up in an unashamedly Asian-American way that's easy for parents and kids of any culture to fall in love with. Performing these traditional Asian melodies using both Eastern and Western instruments, English and Asian languages, and Eastern and Western players (including the world-renowned pipa player Wu Man, the members of the Kronos Quartet, Tibetan musician Techung, Dan Zanes himself, and about three dozen others), Elena Moon Park and her talented friends blend traditions and languages together in each song, to dazzling effect.
Highlights include the stunning "Doraji," a traditional Korean song about the doraji, a root that is used for medicinal purposes, gently reimagined here as something of an old-time Appalachian mountain ballad which gives a nod to Elena Moon Park's East Tennessee upbringing. It's a deft blend, though, that doesn't lose the elemental Korean-ness of the original song. "Soran Bushi" is a fun sea shanty/fishing song from the Hokkaido region of Northern Japan, performed as a group-sing in an arrangement with less Western influence than some of the others.
"Diu Shou Juan" is a cheerful recording of a game song from China (simple instructions to the game, which is similar to Duck, Duck, Goose, can be found in the liner notes) that features a New Orleans-esque brass band. "Ti Oh Oh" is one of the sillier songs on the album. It's a Taiwanese song with lyrics that talk about a grandmother and grandfather arguing over whether they should season the eel to be spicy or bland. The recording features Wu Man and the Kronos Quartet, and the track is simultaneously quirky and spooky.
Truly, though, the whole album is a listenable and easy-to-like one from start to finish. The Mom in me is thrilled to have another CD to add to our permanent collection that the critic in me can listen to without complaint. And there's certainly a deeper connection to be made here, as well, in the sense that Elena Moon Park has found a way to incorporate Asian elements with American elements in grandly metaphoric sort of way that says something powerful and positive about the potential of cross-cultural exchange, and on that note, about the immigrant experience. But also? It's just fun to listen to, and that's enough in and of itself.
My only complaint, and it's one that I've been making a lot lately so bear with me, is that the liner notes, while they are lovely in many ways (they give backgrounds of each song, suggested accompanying activities, and Elena Moon Park's own musings about why she recorded them how she did), do not include any sort of lyrics. The English lyrics of the songs are easy enough to parse, but the lyrics in various Asian languages are trickier and since they're integrated in a lot of the songs, it would be helpful for sing-along purposes to have them written out. But that's hardly a reason to deprive yourself of this lovely little CD, let's be honest. (ETA: It's been pointed out to me that the complete lyrics of all the songs are available at RabbitDays.com. Forget what I just said.)
'Rabbit Days and Dumplings' was released on Festival Five Records in September of 2012. Total playing time is approximately 50 minutes.