It’s been more than two years since Sandra Velasquez brought the Latin-folksy sound of her four-piece band, Pistolera, to Strathmore. But Thursday, the Brooklyn-based group returns to Montgomery County to entertain a slightly younger crowd.
Pistolera is set to perform as Moona Luna, the band’s kid-friendly alter ego, as a part of Strathmore’s Backyard Theater for Children series. Moona Luna and Pistolera are comprised of the same band members, just singing songs geared towards children rather than adults.
In 2010, during the group’s last performance at Strathmore, Moona Luna still was a new project, just finishing recording its first album, “Piñata Party.” Now, the band is wrapping up its still nameless, second album which is a collection of songs all focused around the theme of time. The family-friendly band has performed in cities all over the country including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Velasquez says she was inspired to work on an album for children after the birth of her own daughter four years ago.
“I don’t think I could have written songs for kids without having children of my own,” says Velasquez. “It kind of comes naturally because this is my life ... I’m a mom ... I have a whole new set of experiences to draw from.”
Additionally, Velasquez says the presence of young fans at Pistolera shows also encouraged her to branch out to the new demographic.
“We noticed there were always kids dancing in the front row as we played as Pistolera”, says Velasquez. “That was kind of inspirational.”
Although Velasquez says the vibe and groove for Moona Luna songs are similar to that of Pistolera’s, the content is geared toward youngsters and is even educational; a combination organizers of the Backyard series look for in potential acts.
“The bands we pick are aimed toward music and education,” says Georgina Javor, director of programming at Strathmore. In its 22nd season, the theme for this year’s Backyard summer series is “get up and dance.” Other acts have included “The Recess Monkeys,” a group of former elementary school teachers who sing to make learning fun, and coming next week, Farafina Kan, a high-energy African dance and drum ensemble.
“Music is a tool that allows you to learn,” says Velasquez. “If you’re singing along, then you’re engaged.”
While Velasquez says Moona Luna isn’t dedicated to teaching traditional school subjects, kids still can learn valuable lessons from lyrics in songs like “Don’t Ever Give Up” and “Hay Que Trabajar” (We All Have to Work).
“I try to write about topics that I feel people can relate to,” says Velasquez. “I’m not going to teach you how to do multiplication, but I’m going to teach you how to be a strong person.”
The positive messages in Moona Luna’s songs will reach an even broader audience thanks to the group’s bilingual lyrics, sung in both English and Spanish.
“There weren’t that many bands doing bilingual music for kids,” says Velasquez. “We were kind of filling a void.”
Javor says the multilingual music was added incentive to book Moona Luna, considering the large Hispanic population in Montgomery County.
No matter the language, Javor and Velasquez agree that introducing children to music through the Backyard series is incredibly beneficial.
“There are a lot of studies that say exposing kids to music at a very young age is good for their mental and physical health,” says Javor. “There’s nothing better than seeing a 2-year-old’s face totally illuminated and giving them their first experience with live music.”
Velasquez says it seems music always has been a part of her life. Growing up in San Diego, she started taking piano lessons at age 5, and eventually went to school at the California Institute of the Arts. Having the opportunity to make memorable music for kids is something Velasquez says she cherishes.
“I think it’s really cool to have the opportunity to become the soundtrack to someone’s life,” she says.