Austin’s SaulPaul had a vision for his next children’s album and a plan to do what he usually does: try out some tracks while touring in front of a live audience.
Then, multiple things happened: In March, COVID-19 sent families into their houses and away from public gatherings, and at the end of May, a racial justice awakening followed the death of George Floyd.
He ditched every song planned and started over for his new album, "Be the Change," which comes out Friday.
"What I had no longer felt relevant," SaulPaul says. "I didn’t want to ignore what was happening currently and culturally."
The song "Rainbow" talks about being unique and embracing the rainbow of different races. "Vibes" emphasizes not just surviving but shining, living your truth, as well as Black power. "Hands in the Sky" encourages you to "tell all of the haters they ought to see you later," and to "represent, take a stand, change the game."
"This album is what the world needs right now," he says. "It’s about love and kindness."
SaulPaul’s grandmother, who raised him and was his biggest influence, always taught him to dream big, he says. While he’s committed to children’s music and the good he can do with it, "my goal is to take it beyond. ... There are artists that extend the genre, to pioneer and trailblaze." His goal is to be that trailblazer, to bring more people into loving children’s music, and for everyone who listens to his music to get something different out of it.
He sees it as solving a problem. "How many times can you hear ‘The Wheels on the Bus’?" he asks.
That trailblazing extends beyond having adults listen to his music. "The elephant in the room is that an African American male doesn’t exist in children’s music," he says. Yet, he has for 10 years. "Why aren’t all families represented, made to feel safe and represented?"
This album is a purposeful showcase of different types of music and different types of people represented under one musical rainbow.
He’s collaborated with Alphabet Rockers and Denzil Findley, 123 Andrés, Lori Henriques, Nikki B., Lucy Kalantari, Mo Phillips, Red Yarn and violinist JC Stringz.
"It shows what it looked like to be purposefully collaborative," he says.
He wrote the songs to match the sounds of each of the artists. "What I really like about being a children’s musician is there’s a lot of space in it."
Some songs are more hip-hop, some folk, some reggae, some just him and his guitar.
Through Zoom calls, he gave the artists a sketch of what he was thinking for a song. Then they bounced off ideas and recorded their parts separately. It was then put together in the studio.
Many of the songs also have their own dance moves that you can envision while listening to them; those moves will be included in the videos.
Faith comes into many of the songs. "The Quilt" with Red Yarn begins, "If friendship’s the fabric, and family’s the thread, and faith is the ragged old quilt on your bed, and fairness is the pattern we’re trying to rebuild, and forgiveness is knowing we’re learning to sew our own quilt."
Then he talks about the story of his grandmother raising him at age 68 when he was 3, and being her legacy.
In "Stardust" with Mo Phillips, he assures kids they were clay in the maker’s hands and were born with a purpose.
His grandmother raised him with faith, he says. "Myself, I’m proudly African American," he says. "African Americans, Black people, (people) are realizing that we have been through so much. Faith was a big part of that; it was part of a culture. I grew up in a house based on faith."
On the surface, each song might seem like a fun dance song, but, he says, "Each of the songs has a social-emotional learning aspect to it. It’s conversation starters."
Songs talk about celebrating the hard work you did, loving one another, not stressing out, not giving up, living to your full potential and letting others see your heart.
This album also has a larger component. SaulPaul is inspiring kids to "Be the Change" with a 30-day Be the Change Challenge. Kids can join at btckids.live and see 60 acts of kindness they can do. The 30-day challenge involves doing one such act of kindness a day for 30 days. It’s everything from waving at someone to writing a thank-you note to donating clothing or food.
As he sings in "Hands in the Sky": "Things won’t be the same, once you be the change. You can be the flame to set the world on fire."