1:01am

Fri June 7, 2013
Music

Jose-Luis Orozco: Capturing Kids' Attention In Two Languages

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 12:49 pm

For the past 42 years, José-Luis Orozco has been entertaining children with songs he sings in English and Spanish. He's passionate about teaching children to be bilingual through music, and he's also written books for kids.

"Let's say hello to each other," he says to a crowd of preschoolers at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. "Buenos días," he sings.

"Buenos días," they repeat in unison.

"Good morning," he sings back.

Orozco manages the near-impossible: getting hundreds of small children to pay attention. He entertains them the old-fashioned way — alone, with his guitar, asking them to sing, dance and clap along, and pretend to make hot chocolate with their hands. The kids count and do the ABCs and name the months of the year. They dance the Macarena and imitate farm animals.

"These are important tools for children to help them with oral language development, literacy, body movement and coordination," Orozco says from his home in the Hollywood Hills.

He says he wants Latino children to love the music as much as he does. "Many abuelitas and many parents know the songs that they learned as kids," he says. "It's important to tell the parents, que les cantan a los ninos; keep on singing, keep those rhymes and those games, because we have a rich tradition, and it's important to pass it on."

Orozco was born 65 years ago in Mexico City, and grew up listening to children's musician Cri Cri on the radio. His mother and grandmother sang many of the same tunes he sings today. When he was 7, he joined the Mexico City Boys Choir. They traveled the globe singing religious and folk songs.

"We were the little Mexican ambassadors," Orozco says. "I got to see the world. We sang before five different presidents. And we sang at the palace of Monaco to Princess Grace Kelly."

Orozco's solo in 1959, at the National Theater in Santiago, Chile, won him three standing ovations. With his choir, he sang with famous Mexican musicians of the day, including Lola Beltrán and Pedro Vargas. And they appeared in movies, like the 1959 film El Sordo.

Eventually, he made his way to the San Francisco Bay Area with $50 in his pocket. Back then, in the 1970s, Berkeley's innovative bilingual education programs were blossoming, and Orozco was hired to teach music. He says he remembers the political fights over the public schools' federally funded programs.

"It's been controversial, but now not as much," he says. "I'm so happy to visit dual-language schools because there is an open heart. Kids appreciate this diversity, understanding of other cultures and respect."

Orozco left his job as a vice chancellor of the National Hispanic University to earn his degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and to start a publishing company for his recordings and books. His latest project, Caramba Kids, promotes fitness and good eating habits.

At an elementary school in Montebello, east of L.A., Orozco gets the children to dance along and sing phrases like, "Ooh la la, ooh la la, they all say ooh la la." He talks about Mexican history. And he asks the kids about their futures.

"Who wants to be president of the U.S.?" he asks them. "Yes, you can. Sí, se puede."

Afterwards, 10-year-old Destiny Duarte and 9-year-old Natalie Cortez say Orozco was inspirational.

"My parents will tell me, 'Sing in Spanish, come on!' and I'll be too shy, but he made it really fun," Duarte says.

"I would be annoyed by the Spanish music my mom and dad would play every time there's a celebration," Cortez says. "But this made me not annoyed. So I loved it."

Not annoying: That's high praise from this crowd. Orozco's catchy repertoire left an impression on even the youngest in the audience. After his concert, my 19-month-old daughter, Amaya, sang "Ooh la la" all the way home.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This month, NPR is talking a closer look at the various types of media available to children: TV shows, apps, games, toys - and in this next story, music. For more than 40 years, Jose Luis Orozco has been entertaining children with music he sings in both English and Spanish. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, he's passionate about teaching children to be bilingual through song.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOSE LUIS OROZCO: (Singing) Buenos dias.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Buenos dias.

OROZCO: (Singing) Como estas?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Como estas?

OROZCO: (Singing) Muy bien, gracias...

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Jose Luis Orozco manages the near impossible: getting hundreds of small children to pay attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OROZCO: (Singing) Good morning.

DEL BARCO: He entertains them the old-fashioned way: alone, with his guitar; asking them to sing, dance and clap along, and pretend to make hot chocolate with their hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OROZCO: (Singing) Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate chocolate...

DEL BARCO: The kids count and do the ABC's. They dance the macarena and imitate animals.

OROZCO: These are important tools for children; to help them with oral language development, with literacy, body movement, coordination.

DEL BARCO: Orozco says he wants Latino children to love the music as much as he does.

OROZCO: Many abuelitas, many parents know the songs that they have learned as kids. It's important to tell the parents que les cantan a los ninos. We have a rich tradition, and it's important to pass it on.

DEL BARCO: Orozco was born 65 years ago in Mexico City, and grew up listening to children's musician Cri Cri on the radio. His mother and grandmother sang many of the same tunes he croons today. When he was 7 years old, he joined the Mexico City Boys Choir.

OROZCO: We were the little Mexican ambassadors. I got to see the world. We sang before five different presidents.

DEL BARCO: Here's Orozco's solo in 1959, at the National Theater in Santiago, Chile.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED MUSICAL RECORDING)

DEL BARCO: Orozco eventually made his way to the San Francisco Bay Area with $50 in his pocket. Back then, in the 1970s, Berkeley's innovative bilingual education programs were blossoming, and Orozco was hired to teach music. He remembers the political fights over the public schools' federally funded programs.

OROZCO: It's been controversial but now, not as much. I'm so happy to visit dual-language schools because there is, you know, an open heart - kids appreciating this diversity, understanding of other cultures, and respect.

DEL BARCO: Orozco left his job as a vice chancellor of the National Hispanic University, to start a publishing company for his recordings and books. His latest project, Carramba Kids, promotes fitness and good eating habits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

OROZCO: (Singing) Ooh la la, ooh la la, le dicen ooh la la. Hands on your waist. Yeah...

DEL BARCO: At an elementary school in Montebello, east of LA, Orozco sang, then talked about Mexican history. And he asked the kids about their futures.

OROZCO: Who wants to be president of the United States? All right. Yes, you can. Si, se puede.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Si, se puede.

DEL BARCO: Ten-year-old Destiny Duarte, and 9-year-old Natalie Cortez, say Orozco inspired them.

DESTINY DUARTE: My parents will tell me: Sing in Spanish, come on. And I'll be too shy. But he made it really fun.

NATALIE CORTEZ: Every time I would be annoyed by the Spanish music that my mom and dad would play whenever it's a celebration, and I would be really annoyed. And this made me not annoyed. So I loved it.

DEL BARCO: Not annoying - that's high praise from this crowd. Orozco's catchy repertoire left an impression on even the youngest in the audience. After his concert, my 19-month-old daughter, Amaya, sang all the way home.

AMAYA: (Singing) Ooh la la. Ooh la la. Ooh la la...

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Aw. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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