Evan and Vanessa are a beloved musical husband-and-wife duo. On September 28, Evan and Vanessa will release their new bilingual (English/Spanish) album for children and families titled “In Our World There Are No Strangers/En Nuestro Mundo No Hay Extranjeros.”
Evan and Vanessa have spent years creating their own highly refined, one-of-a-kind sound, combining with it a philosophy rooted in the idea that international harmony can be enhanced by teaching children empathy, respect, and understanding through songs and stories of other cultures. Their efforts are bolstered by Evan’s exemplary musicianship (he sings and performs on over 20 instruments) and Vanessa’s beautiful voice, her extensive training in Montessori education methods, and the fact that, not only is she a native Spanish speaker, but her experiences as a child in Ecuador have given her a “hands on” feel for an intrinsically Hispanic way of seeing the world.
In Our World There Are No Strangers/En Nuestro Mundo No Hay Extranjeros is, in its entirety, performed in both English and Spanish, with numerous multicultural references and instrumental sounds threaded through each song in intriguing ways. For instance, one song might be in English and use instruments that originated in Mexico, while another might be in Spanish but have lyrics that were originally English, while featuring instruments from China, the U.S., and Ecuador.
Vanessa Richmond recently discussed this album and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan (MM): How did you initially get interested in music and how did you create your defining sound?
Vanessa Richmond (VR): We have both been interested in music since we were children. My earliest years were spent with my mom and grandparents in Ecuador, and I remember singing along to Motown and salsa music in the car with my grandpa. I always loved to sing. I remember in 5th grade I was asked to sing during the morning announcements over the intercom and it was such an exciting moment. After that I was always in choir and also took piano lessons from my dad who is a pianist. Evan loved guitar and piano as a child and would have “performances” in the living room for his family. He taught himself guitar in high school and played with a group of his friends for a long time before we started playing together. He has since taught himself many new instruments. Our defining sound is not something we really think about. We just try to make music that we feel with our hearts, and that we love to hear. The music that we’ve known in our lives, along with the instruments we can play, the people we know and love, and the feelings that we feel have all contributed to how we make music.
MM: What inspires your songs and do you typically write lyrics or melodies first?
VR: I would say it’s a combination of both, but usually the music comes first and then we write to it together. One of our favorite things is the feeling when a song comes together and communicates the feeling we hoped for. We just finished writing to a song we are both really excited to share. Another favorite thing of ours is when the music reveals itself. It’s not so much creating as it is transcribing something that is somehow being channeled through our minds or through our instruments. This happens sometimes with music, and sometimes it happens with words as well. The timing for these happenings isn’t predictable, but we are always so grateful when they happen.
MM: Your recent album includes music in Spanish and in English, why did you decide to create a multilingual album?
VR: I grew up bilingual (English/ Spanish) since I lived with my grandparents in Ecuador until I was almost seven. My mom was raised in Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador, so Spanish has always been threaded through my everyday life. It feels natural and important to maintain that connection and share it with other people especially in a time where communities are often very divided. If our music can bring people together, we feel like we have done what we set out to do. Making people more comfortable and happy to be together sharing feelings of love and community is the ultimate goal.
MM: What were the challenges of making an album that features two languages?
VR: It’s tricky to translate things directly and still maintain the colloquialisms of the original language. Also, phrasing for an English sentence may be much different than the same sentence in Spanish, so you have to learn to quilt the words together carefully and thoughtfully to get across the same message and make it fit in the same space all at the same time. Even though it is time consuming and very challenging, it feels so fulfilling to have accomplished a double album, and I don’t see us veering away from this process anytime soon.
MM: Of all your songs, which are your favorites and fan favorites?
VR: It’s hard to choose since you give a little piece of yourself to each song and you watch it blossom into its own little world. We love all of them and stand by all of them, but I think for me the one I could listen to most often and still feel really comforted by is Tu Tu Teshcote. I think it just came together so nicely and has such a powerful calming effect. It’s kind of like a little sanctuary for me. As far as fan favorites go, I think Sun Sun Sun is really loved by our audiences. I have people tell me pretty often that it gets stuck in their head or that they listen to it every morning. Evan says his current favorite song is the title track “In Our World There Are No Strangers”, but that his favorites are constantly changing.
MM: What experiences with fans have been most memorable to you and why?
VR: We recently had a show at a local library where a teenager came and sat in the back. He looked a little unamused at first, and didn’t really get involved in singing or the sound games we were doing. There were some other older children there who were also laughing and feeling a little embarrassed to participate. This is tough to deal with as a performer. It’s easy to get self-conscious and feel like you are failing, but in this instance, I was able to fight through those feelings and made a joke about how it can be embarrassing to sing in front of other people. I realized how important it is to be vulnerable and honest and in the moment with everyone you’re sharing the performance with. By the end of the show the teenager in the back was participating and smiling. After the show he walked over to Evan and said: “I wasn’t sure about coming here at all today, but I’m really glad I did. I think you all are gifted. I’m 15 years old, but you all made me feel like a kid again. I just wanted to thank you for that.” and then he shook Evan’s hand and walked away. The fact that he approached us and shared this with us brought us both to tears. We spoke to the librarian after and she shared with us that this child has a particularly difficult home life and that it was really something special for him to have felt like a child again. This was one of those unexpected moments where we were given a gift we didn’t even realize could be an outcome of playing music for children and families. These moments are always very affirming and grounding but also force us to face the tough reality of how vital it is to reach out and be present for the people in the surrounding communities who need some relief and love, even if it’s just for a little while.
MM: When you started out making music why did you focus on music for kids?
VR: I grew up with seven brothers, so there was always a child around. We have both loved children and working with them for our whole lives. I am a certified Montessori teacher for ages 3-6 and have worked with children since I was in high school. It was really just the natural merging of two passions. Children are so uninhibited and really experience music fully so it makes for a really fulfilling career. You get such real present feedback and get to share so much in such a unique way with children. We make what would be considered adult music as well and plan to continuing doing so, but our bigger goal was to blur the line a little between what is children’s music and adult music. We believe that music for children should also be just as enjoyable for adults and that music should be experienced as a community. So often music for children can be repetitive and trivial, but we want to veer far away from that and make music that everyone, no matter the age, can enjoy.
MM: How did you experiences with Montessori schools influence you and why do you think these schools are so beneficial?
VR: Being a part of a Montessori community has helped me see the depth of the potential of young children. It’s difficult to sum up in a few words the profound impact Montessori education can have on the community at large, but for me, the most striking benefit is that it creates a relationship of trust and community at an age when the mind is developing most rapidly. It allows children to have their own space, their own relationships, their own materials. Giving children a space like this, along with the trust and freedom to maneuver it, allows them to discover the world around them. This alone affords them more tools for their future than we could even imagine. We aren’t just helping them develop the skills they will use later in life, Montessori educators are giving children the deep understanding that they are accountable for their own future, and that they are important, beautiful, responsible members of a community. This freedom also allows children to develop relationships with other children that are unlike any other I’ve seen. Since children are responsible for the care of the environment around them; they rise to the occasion and care not only for the materials in the classroom but also for each other. The environment feels less like a classroom and more like a home with a family of thriving children living in it and caring for it.
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
VR: Our biggest goals for the future are to continue to create music and videos that we love, and to involve ourselves in as many surrounding communities as possible. We want to involve children more in what we do, and to explore and reveal their lives, thoughts, and feelings in a way that conveys our profound respect for them.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
VR: We are very proud of our music videos, and if you haven’t seen them yet, you should check them out at www.EvanandVanessa.com!
“In Our World There Are No Strangers/En Nuestro Mundo No Hay Extranjeros” will be available at Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, and their official website. To learn more, visit their Facebook and YouTube.
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