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African makeover for nursery rhymes

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AFRICAN NURSERY: Graeme Sacks and Erika Strydom of African Treehouse recording Nursery Rhymes for Africa with some pupils from Redhill School in Morningside, Joburg.

This weekend many a family will depart for their holiday on a diabolical journey to one of the four corners of South Africa.

With young children becoming bored with laptop games within the first two hours of the trip, African Treehouse has released a perfect alternative – Nursery Rhymes for Africa.

The album aims to teach children to sing along to traditional nursery rhymes, but with an African angle to the music. The album is also a bonus because the songs are not of that irritating Barney the Dinosaur ilk. They have a mature, listenable element to them that adults can relate to.

It is the brainchild of Erika Strydom and Graeme Sacks, both of whom are songwriters, producers and session musicians.

“I have nephews who were growing up on Barney and I felt it important for them to understand that they come from Africa and not America,” explains Sacks.

They have a very different take on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, a rather Tananas influence. It is slightly altered with the words: African Star, how I wonder what you are, like a diamond in the African Sky.

This, says Strydom, is because it is important that children know where they live.

Hickory Dickory Dock is, in parts, what Freshlyground would do if they had to make children’s music. There are additional whistles and claps which children will identify with. Humpty Dumpty features Concord Nkabinde on bass and backing vocals and is also a more adult-sounding song.

Mary had a Little Lamb is straight up Afro-pop, but it works.

The idea behind the music was strengthened by the fact that the two were commissioned to do kid’s theatre. They realised there was a gap for real music for kids.

Other releases include an album called African Alphabet where they use symbols of Africa, such as “B is for baobab and c for crocodile”.

Stories from the Alphabet Tree and African Numbers followed, the latter winning them a Sama in 2011.

“We have such a rich heritage in Africa,” explains Sacks. “Both of us also love African music and believe children should hold on to this.”

The albums are available via africantreehouse.com. There you can also join a mailing list to be sent a free song or colouring in picture each month.

This is music for the road trip and it won’t drive the parents crazy either.

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