Several years ago, RAS Records, the most venerable U.S. reggae label, released Reggae for Kids, an album of reggae covers of traditional children’s songs. Since most cover albums are gimmicks or tributes, RAS didn’t hold great expectations for its initial foray into kids’ music and was stunned when it quickly outsold every artist on their roster. To put this in perspective, an album featuring a reggae rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon” proved more popular than the collected works of genre legends like Israel Vibration, Black Uhuru, and Gregory Isaacs. Reggae for Kids has even surpassed Bunny Wailer, the lone surviving member of Bob Marley and the Wailers, whose Grammy-winning 1995 album Hall of Fame couldn’t stand up to the kiddie competition. A follow-up album, More Reggae for Kids, proved similarly popular and continues to sell long after its release. Now RAS has joined forces with Disney to produce a third installment with the hallmarks of a major blockbuster. Reggae for Kids: Movie Classics features reggae covers of popular Disney movie tunes like ” Hakuna Matata” (The Lion King), ” Bare Necessities” (Jungle Book), and ” You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (Toy Story).
Kids are predisposed to like reggae, with its easy, syncopated beats. Disney has already clued in to the fact that reggae singers’ warm Jamaican patois has a natural charm for kids—look no further than Sebastian the Crab, the Jamaican-accented crustacean from The Little Mermaid. Reggae for Kids: Movie Classics features a cover of Sebastian’s hit “Under the Sea,” by the reggae star Arrow. Click here for the truly surreal spectacle of a Jamaican impersonating a crab impersonating a Jamaican.
Parents are another reason for the albums’ popularity. They’re the ones buying these albums, and kids’ reggae appeals to a particular kind of parent—affluent, liberal, and delighted to expose his progeny to reggae’s multiculturalism (especially when it’s free of standard reggae subject matter like suffering, violence, oppression, and marijuana). Many of these boomers discovered reggae during its golden era (the mid- to late ‘70s in the United States) and are eager to pass on their cultivated musical tastes to their children. Some proceeds have been donated to an orphanage in Jamaica, giving the purchase an added appeal with right-minded parents and teachers. In what surely is its only reggae review to date, Mothering magazine noted approvingly that More Reggae for Kids “visibly contributes to a children’s cause.” Not surprisingly for this cohort, the album is in heavy rotation on NPR play lists.
Then there is the matter of the competition. The musical achievements of recent stars of kids’ music—Barney, Raffi, the Teletubbies—have been scant. Children may take pleasure in such noise, but it sends most parents screaming from the room. Decent kids’ music, on the other hand, provokes an equally passionate a reaction in parents: Wholesalers at the recent American International Toy Fair reported that parents planning cross-country driving trips with their families this summer were clamoring for copies of the new album.