Andrés Salguero still remembers the first time he was invited to perform for a group of children. A freelance musician living in Kansas City, Mo., at the time, he welcomed the opportunity, even if it left him scratching his head a little bit. The pitch went something like this:
“During one song, you’ll need to stick your tongue out, pant like a dog, and bark. And you’re going to have to do lots of silly dance moves,” Salguero reminisced in a post on his website.
That was back in 2007, and he never suspected that gig would end up being his ticket to a rising career in family entertainment as a bilingual educator. This month Salguero will release his debut album — “¡Uno, Dos, Tres con Andrés!’’ — and embark on a string of tour dates along the East Coast. He’ll play several shows in the Boston area April 22-25 at various branches of the Boston Public Library. (www.123andres.com has the details.)
Growing up in Colombia, Salguero says there wasn’t exactly a precedent for what he’s doing now, but he was surrounded by music at an early age.
“We didn’t have performers who would entertain kids the way it is done in the US right now,” says Salguero, 35. “There wasn’t really a culture or a space to see children’s performers live. I was very lucky in that the first teacher I had is now a nationally recognized author on children’s music. With her we learned dances and songs from Colombia. We ended up recording an album of children’s music. It’s amazing that when I was 8 I went into a studio and made a full-length album like the one I just did.”
“There is so much variety in Latin music and we tried to represent what the Latino community in the US listens to,” Salguero adds. “I found out that it doesn’t have to do with the country of origin anymore.”
To that end, his joyous new album, which will be out on April 22, hopscotches around the Spanish-speaking world, seamlessly switching from bachata and bolero to mariachi and vallenato. Salguero is a gentle presence on the record, singing in a bright, warm voice with messages about how we’re all the same despite our different backgrounds.
“I found that doing an album like this was the perfect vehicle to introduce people to a foreign culture and foreign language,” Salguero says. “There’s a growing population of Latinos in this country, but in family music, there’s not much representation. I see it as a two-way opportunity: I want to educate the kids who haven’t had contact with a foreign language and people from different countries. And for the Latino kids, I have the opportunity to share with them on a different level. The fact that they speak Spanish and look like me, they feel validated, like they belong here.”
His live shows touch on a little of everything — music, geography, and dance. Salguero relishes the idea of being a musician and educator at the same time, which makes sense given that he earned a doctorate in music with a graduate certificate in education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
He credits Dino O’Dell, a popular children’s entertainer in Kansas City, with showing him the ropes. O’Dell had invited Salguero to perform with his band, the gig where Salguero might have to bark like a dog. O’Dell was looking for a saxophonist and after checking out one of Salguero’s shows decided he was certainly a talented musician.
“I thought, He can definitely play, so the next question is, can he work with kids? Because not everyone who can play can work with kids,” O’Dell says. “He was great, so natural. He’s a unique combination: a bilingual singer-songwriter with a doctorate in music and he understands how to educate kids. I think a lot of times in this business, you might be good at educating kids but might not be a very good musician. Andrés is both.”
Salguero jokes that the divide between performing for rowdy adults versus rambunctious kids isn’t as vast as you might think.
“People are very honest, they’ll yell at you, and someone may throw up,” he says, laughing. “But with kids, it’s so intimate right away. Kids, if they like you, they want to come and hug you — during the show. If they like you, they’re completely with you. That’s one of the things I was missing with adult audiences. I fell in love with this.”James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.