On September 10 from Smithsonian Folkways comes Let Love Be Your Guide, the first duo album by internationally renowned family musicians Dan + Claudia Zanes. The collection is a welcoming, freewheeling musical conversation about anti-racism, racial justice, and the joys of community. Conceived during the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings and coronavirus pandemic, the songs describe the new terms of togetherness – how we understand it, how we build it, and how we strive for more.
Dan + Claudia Zanes like to describe their style – rooted in many different traditions including gospel, country, R&B, and traditional Haitian music – as electric folk. At the core it’s two voices and an electric guitar. The eclectic, warm, and accessible music the duo makes reflects the kindness and openness that underpin their message: out of isolation and hardship we can learn how to accept and heal the wounds of the past, and how to change and face the future with grace and compassion, regardless of our age. In addition to the usual ways that music enhances our daily lives, the artists imagine that families will use these songs as a starting point for important and uplifting conversations at home.
Let Love Be Your Guide was written and recorded in Baltimore shortly after the couple moved to the city from Brooklyn at the end of 2019. They had been there just a few months when the pandemic hit and they were left, like all of us, at home. In an effort to connect with others, they decided to record and share a new song online every day, creating a Social Isolation Song Series. The popular series, which was later acquired by the Library of Congress, delivered inspiration and hope by bringing people together when we were forced apart, providing light when things were so dark for the artists and their virtual audience. The series ended after two hundred days. The experience changed the couple as they realized more clearly what folk singers have always known: songs are here to inspire and uplift, but they’re also here to tell the stories and reflect the times, and these were indeed unprecedented and unforgettable times.
“As we put this album together, we were reminded again that there is a time for dancing and a time for protest. When we sing, we share a sense of possibility and love. The songs, like the conversation, can tell us where and who we are and what we might become…together.” – Dan + Claudia Zanes
Fans of Dan Zanes will discover a collection that represents the full evolution of his work since he started creating family music, with songs that are inclusive and speak to people of all ages about love, community, and activism. Listeners can hear the joy and fullness from a singer now joined by the love of his life, Claudia, whom he credits with helping him become the person and artist he was meant to be. He declares this is the album that expresses everything he’s always wanted to say and is a representation of life’s greatest possibilities: a creation from their love that shares what they can accomplish together. Claudia brings to the album, her first, her life’s story, her observations and personal experiences.
The title track “Let Love Be Your Guide (for John Lewis)” is dedicated to the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon. In the final weeks of his life Lewis wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation” and arranged to have it published on the day of his funeral. Dan and Claudia we were so moved by John’s life and words that they sat in their kitchen that afternoon and wrote this song. On “Coming Down” the duo envisions the dismantling of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism. Who doesn’t want freedom for one and all? Join the cause and enjoy the party on the other side. Faith provided them much comfort and strength this past year, and “In These Troubled Times” comes from a call-and-response they practice in church. “The Bridge” is about the assumptions we make about each other based on appearance and features MC J Pope. The first single off the album, “Reparations Is a Must (4th of July Love Song),” is a loud call for healing, freedom, promise, acknowledgement, truth, love, and most importantly justice.
As Dan is no stranger to making music aimed at families, and Claudia is a jazz vocalist of Haitian American heritage, here the duo offers songs like the playful “Arriba,” the soothing jazz lullaby “Startime,” and “Ki Lè M’ap We Ou Anko?” (When Will I See You Again?), a song about longing for and missing the people we care about and love. As an interracial couple Dan and Claudia acknowledge that they live in “Two Different Worlds,” and on this song they embrace this truth as they walk together towards a better tomorrow. “For the Long Night” is about looking ahead and imagining possibilities, and the dreamy “Hold On” reminds us to hold on to hope, joy, faith, songs, peace, and in the long shadow of night, to each other.
The album was 100 percent a Baltimore-based production: produced by Dan + Claudia Zanes, recorded live in studio and mixed by Steve Wright at WrightWay Studios, and mastered by Tony Eichler at GoldTone Masterworks, LLC. Guests on the album, all locals, include Amadou Kouyate, Eze Jackson, Greg Corneille, Yesenia Mejia Herrera, Ashley Sierra, Isabelle DeLeon, Mike Lowry (Future Islands), Jeff Reed, David Morales Mejia, Kylie Grace, Eva Grace, Haven Grace, Prince Phillip, Reverend Korcoran Smith, Keenan Smith, Lilly Smith, Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead, J Pope, Black Root, and Max, Grace, and Phillip Ferrell.
Grammy award–winning children’s performer Dan Zanes and Haitian American music therapist / jazz vocalist Claudia Zanes have been making music with each other since the day they met in the fall of 2016. In their early time together the duo began performing sensory friendly concerts which brought about the notable Night Train 57: A Sensory Friendly Comic Folk Opera, commissioned by the Kennedy Center, in 2017.
Their love of songs and communal music-making led to an award-winning songbook entitled Dan Zanes’ House Party: A Family Roots Music Treasury, published by Quarto Group USA in 2018. In late 2019 the now married couple moved from Brooklyn to Baltimore. When the coronavirus brought about a national state of emergency just after their arrival, Dan and Claudia started their Social Isolation Song Series. For the next 200 days, in an effort to stay connected and uplift others, they performed a different song every day. This remarkable series of videos currently resides in the Library of Congress.
The two continue to adapt and reinvent and sing their way to new beginnings. In addition to music-making, Claudia runs her flourishing handmade skin care business called CLEO Soaps, and Dan continues his work with Constructive White Conversations, a white anti-racist organization he co-founded in 2011. Let Love Be Your Guide is the couple’s first album together and Dan’s second with Smithsonian Folkways after Lead Belly, Baby! which released in 2017.
LET LOVE BE YOUR GUIDE TRACKLISTING:
1. Let Love Be Your Guide (for John Lewis)
2. Open Windows (Here I Am)
3. Long Hot Summer Nights
4. Ki Lè M’ap We Ou Anko? When Will I See You Again?)
5. Coming Down
6. New Beginnings
7. In These Troubled Times
8. For the Long Night
9. The Bridge
10. Reparations Is a Must (4th of July Love Song)
11. Hold On
12. Arriba Means Up!
13. Two Different Worlds
14. Star Time