When a musician with a doctorate in music marries an educator, there are two possibilities that come to mind: either they open a music school or they produce and perform educational songs.
The latter is what happened with husband-wife team Andrés Salguero and Christina Sanabria: Christina is the educator who was born in the US into a Spanish-speaking home, and Andrés is the musician with a doctorate in music who moved to the US from Columbia. Residing in Reston, they started their band, 123 Andrés (pronounced uno, dos, tres Andrés), and began performing children’s songs that were crafted carefully after years of interacting with young children in different public school classrooms. This resulted in the band winning a Latin Grammy Award for one of their albums. You will learn more as you read our conversation below. They perform in Spanish and in English all over the US and Latin America, but they call D.C. home. They have performed at dozens of free concerts around DC and the Baltimore metro area, as well as at venues like Wolf Trap. Alt.Latino NPR's Weekend Edition described them as “Very innovative, very creative, with a great melodic sense, to play music that our smaller kids will appreciate and learn.”
Your music and songs are described as innovative. Can you explain what makes them innovative?
ANDRÉS: First of all, that is a great question. What I think that what is innovative about it is that we bring rhythm and genres from different parts of Latin America and we present them in a unique way, in a way that sounds appealing to parents and children. We're not inventing anything new, but I guess, in the family music scene in the United States we're teaching a second language, in particular teaching, in this case, Spanish; it has certain particularities. You have to do it in a certain way for the families and the children that are growing here in this country. So I think that is where we are bringing a unique approach, a unique way to do it. The beautiful part of it is that teachers and schools and families all over the country are using our music to learn and then they listen to it in the car. The two places do not have to be separated. The fun and the learning continue.
CHRISTINA: And then the other thing is that Andrés plays the guitar, saxophone, clarinet and he also brings something that fascinates older children: looper pedals. So he's able to combine...he can record a rhythm knocking on the guitars. He can create a percussion beat and then he can record a harmony. He has other pedals that modify the way the guitar sounds. And so even though he only has one guitar he can produce a lot of different instruments on top of it.
How did the idea come about? What made you think and decide to create music to educate children?
ANDRÉS: It was a combination of luck and personal interest. The personal interest came because Christina was in education. She was a classroom teacher and I was writing songs already for a while, writing songs of all kinds. So I wanted to, through those songs I wanted to bring a message. I wanted to communicate. And now where luck comes is that I was hired to be part of children's music band which is something a little bit unusual, right?
ANDRÉS: I was playing different kinds of gigs and I was doing classical music and so forth and it came, this opportunity, and I took it and what I realized was that I had a talent for it and where I found my calling was performing for families and children. I'm very goofy, so I found the perfect job for me.
Why is this important to you?
CHRISTINA: I grew up in Kansas City. When I was growing up, there wasn't a lot of access to books, music, even TV shows except for cartoons on the Spanish channel that were in Spanish. That were enriching. There definitely weren't Spanish story times at my library or anything like that. I know that today parents, just like my parents, really want their child to stay connected to their heritage or to be global citizens whether or not they have any connection. Today we met a little girl who speaks Mandarin at home and is going to a Spanish immersion school. Her mom wants her to be trilingual and that's so beautiful. We want to be part of that resource ecosystem for families to be able to draw on concerts, videos and YouTube and through our songs.
As well as, I think in these times, that just the act of saying I speak a different language and I'm proud of that. Or I speak with an accent and my family are immigrants and be proud of that is a powerful statement. We want to always touch on that. Talk about kindness, about being welcoming, about caring about our differences. So those are some of the messages that also come through in the songs and the stories that we tell.
I also know that one of your albums won a Latin Grammy Award.
CHRISTINA: Yes. Our second album, “Arriba Abajo,” (“Up Down”) won the Latin Grammy Award, and the first one, “Uno, Dos, Tres con Andrés!” was nominated.
Did you expect to win? How did you receive the news?
CHRISTINA: I know that when we found out it was nominated we were so, so, so thrilled. We had been to the ceremony the year before, but you're sitting in the audience and you have no idea what's going to happen. Just like everybody watching at home and it was so special because our family in Columbia was tuning in on the livestream and we know a lot of our family, fans, friends in DC and in other parts of the US were tuning in on the livestream. We were all hopeful, but definitely it was not expected. So when they call your name you’re so in shock, so your heart is bursting. And just a moment of beautiful pride because we worked so hard on the album musically and also that album actually, the genesis of it was that Andrés was an artist in residence at Claremont, a bilingual elementary school in Arlington.
CHRISTINA: He was there over the course of two years, I believe, maybe three, but definitely two and the kindergarten team wanted an artist to extend the academic experience through music and movement. So he sat down before the residency with the kindergarten teachers and they explained what were some of the curriculum goals for their students. He literally created songs around those and worked with the children over the course of several weeks and field tested the songs. So, both from a musical perspective in terms of recording and everything is in tune and in rhythm and syncopation and the engineering and all of that as well as the educational aspect. We had committed all of our heart and soul into the project. So to have that recognition was so special. And we keep making music.
I love that story. Are you participating in a new artist-in-residence program or is there any new project like that?
CHRISTINA: Our latest album is unique in that this time we partnered with a curriculum company
called Benchmark. They had identified that if you go on YouTube you can find ABC songs in English. And there's a song for the letter B, a song for the letter D, a song for the letter S, but there wasn't something that was comprehensive and high quality in Spanish and so we worked together with them to create that. So our latest album is 38 songs, one for each letter of the alphabet and then of some consonant blends and other sounds in Spanish. So it's all about phonics. Again, it draws on their expertise working with teachers and knowing what they need in the classroom. We released that album at the beginning of the summer. Families have been really receptive, not only in the US, but in Latin American and Spain because it didn't really exist.
And then in the fall, schools across the country will be using the songs as part of their literacy instruction for schools that are what we call dual language, so that their goal is not for children to transition out of speaking Spanish or their home language, but to be bilingual and biliterate in Spanish and English.