There's something cute and quite cool about the idea of young 'uns swaying their heads...
Chris Moss 2002
Teaching children a language through world music kills several birds. First, it's painless and fun, so they learn better. Second, it exposes them to new cultures and exotic sounds, which can only be good -why wait till your gap year to discover the planet? Third, they might grow up realising that radio-play pop isn't the whole story and that Robbie and Britney are not gods.
Fortunately, Putumayo's French Playground is also a decent compilation of lively Francophone songs. Sure, some of the tunes seem aimed at picking up new words or repeating playful alliterations, with kids joining in on the choruses and a child-friendly beat straight out of a toddlers' drama class. But the spirit of Georges Brassens breathes through the likes of Alain Schneider's "Chatouiller le Ciel Avec Toi" and ex-punk star Polo's "Petit Français" and there's something cute and quite cool about the idea of young 'uns swaying their heads to these slightly melancholy chansons.
Many of the songs by French artists come with a Latin lilt and tracks from Haiti and Mauritius bring in new instruments and warmer rhythms. Children will no doubt find these highly danceable as well as anthropologically intriguing.
It's no surprise that labels have woken up to this new market: Putumayo also do Caribbean, African, Latin and World collections for kids, and Rough Guides recently released CDs of African and Latin music for kids. But for those of us who never got beyond cartoons of Claudette and Jean-Paul fixing a puncture on some leafy back lane, perhaps these albums will stir up a new yearning to speak French. At the very least, singing a song about "coccinelles" (ladybirds) will impress the neighbours on your next Gites holiday.