Moona Luna, the accordion-wielding trailblazers of the bilingual children’s genre, will perform at the Strathmore Backyard Theatre Series at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on July 7. It will be the Mexican-American quartet’s fourth Strathmore appearance, both under the group name Moona Luna and Pistolera.
As Pistolera, they have toured the U.S. and Europe and opened for Lila Downs and Los Lobos, but as Moona Luna, they don’t usually stray too far from their New York City hub. However, they will gladly hop in their van and drive south to perform for the fun and ever-receptive D.C.-metro area audience, said lead singer Sandra Velasquez.
Both Pistolera and Moona Luna are spearheaded by Velasquez, a San Diego native. The group consists of Sebastian Guerrero on drums, Sean Dixon on bass, and Maria Elena on accordion.
Pistolera, founded in 2005, is 10 years strong now, but was two years old when lead singer Velasquez had a child and discovered a niche in the market for a bilingual children’s band in 2010. She wrote a children’s album and now, three albums later, creating kid-themed tunes has become a stress-free diversion. “It’s all upbeat – it almost does itself,” she said. “It’s just delightful, joyful. I write for children because I love it.”
When Velasquez moved from her hometown of San Diego to New York City in 1999, the first-generation Mexican American found herself homesick for the Mexican music that permeates California culture. “In San Diego, all the Latinos are Mexican or Chicanos, and then you move to New York and everyone is Puerto Rican. I missed hearing those accordion sounds creeping out of the pores of taco shops. I started longing for it.”
So the alumna of California Institute of the Arts and New York University formed Pistolera, and the group landed gigs first at local bars and Latin festivals, then at large music festivals and opening for major artists. They found an East Coast audience that was thirsty for the group’s fusion of Latin sounds and evocative lyrics, which often explores the topic of immigration; the theme comes naturally to Velasquez, whose mother is an immigration lawyer.
“We were successful and stood out here because there wasn’t really anyone doing that here,” Velasquez said. “In L.A., you’ll find a number of Spanish rock cover bands, but here we were kind of the only ones.”
As for Moona Luna, the group’s albums, which feature catchy pop tunes with lyrics in both Spanish and English, are thematically inclined. Their 2011 debut album, “Pinata Party,” was followed by “Vamos, Let’s Go!” in 2013. The new album, “P-A-N-O-R-A-M-A,” released earlier this year, focuses on travel in the form of a family bus trip through South America. It was inspired by Velasquez’s treks throughout Latin America and influenced by the African Diaspora.
“I love to travel, and I’ve traveled by bus from California to El Salvador,” said Velasquez. “‘P-A-N-O-R-A-M-A’ is written with travel in mind, but this time, imagining it from the eyes of a child.” The album’s single, also titled “P-A-N-O-R-A-M-A,” captures the first two syllables of the word in a catchy chorus–“Pano-Panorama!”–while panoramic shots of Latin America play on a screen in the background.
Fans can find the group members decked out in vibrant colors, banging out singles and rocking out in music videos on their website, www.moonalunamusic.com. Their music is also available on most music streaming apps. Velasquez, whose projects are ever evolving, also has a solo project, “SLV.” More on that can found at www.SLVmusic.com.
Moona Luna will perform at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Strathmore’s Outdoor Backyard Theater Stage. Blankets, low-rise chairs, strollers and small coolers are welcome outside only. No pets. Free snow cones will be distributed. Tickets are $8, free for children, 2 and younger. In inclement weather, concerts are moved inside the Music Center. Visit www.strathmore.org.