Charity Kahn and the JAMband will get your kid dancing!
Focused on positive values, she brings joy through music and movement.
Parents throughout San Francisco and the Bay area (and the world) are struggling to find ways to engage their kids. The world is increasingly virtual, and we all know something is missing in those video interactions. Kids, more than anyone, need human connection and positive role models.
My first interaction with Charity was at the Outer Sunset Farmers Market. Right in the middle of the market was a large group of kids dancing with reckless abandon, all eyes focused on the figure singing into the microphone. Families literally lined up to wait as the space filled. I grew up a shy kid, and the idea of dancing amidst hundreds of lookers-on seemed pretty wild. I had to meet this incredible person.
Charity Kahn is a Bay Area musician who uses song and dance to connect with kids. As part of JAMBand, she’s also a local business owner who puts on positive and mindful events for kids and adults alike. Her energy is infectious, and I decided upon meeting her to embark on a personal collaboration project. You should know her story, so we sat down to write it together. You’ll find it below, written in her words (and a couple of mine).
Music, Mother Earth, Motherhood, Mindfulness
If I had to choose the four foundations of what lead me to do what I do, they would be: Music, Mother Earth, Motherhood, Mindfulness
I was raised by two piano teacher parents in a small town in Wisconsin. Music was everything in our family – piano lessons, choirs, musicals, singalongs, band, chorus — you name it and we participated in it.
“Music always brought me great joy and a feeling of being acutely alive. Looking back, it was my first daily meditation practice.”
I remember vividly an early experience at creative drama camp, sitting inside a huge cardboard refrigerator box we had transformed into a spaceship. I felt a profound sense of being connected to something greater. Looking back, I believe I was tapping into the energy of creativity. I’m most alive when I’m creating something out of nothing, with no rules – just listening, and channeling what is asking to be born.
My other happy place as a child was Earth herself. I have so many memories of feeling at one with the universe and all beings, while sitting underneath my favorite willow tree in our backyard, or playing amidst the fragrant lilac bushes, or, when I was a bit older, riding my bike down to the lake and sitting in stillness while the golden sun slowly sank into the steel-gray expanse of water.
These influences stayed with me. I continued to participate in music of all kinds in college, and then ended up receiving a degree in mathematics (after changing my major seven times in four years) and writing a book on the connections between Math and Music. I also continued to seek out remote nature – backpacking, climbing, camping – as a way to feel at home, centered, alive. And I started practicing yoga and exploring what it was like to be mindfully in my body.
After college, I taught high school math and piano, then became a software engineer, with the music tugging incessantly at my heart all the while. I had written over 100 songs by this time, but had largely given up on the idea of making a career in music.
“And then…I became a mother, and everything changed. It was as if something fell into place, and I was no longer able to live parallel to my truth, but absolutely had to align myself with it, or go mad.”
Eighteen months after becoming a mom, I quit my job in tech and started teaching music and movement classes in my living room. Twenty years later, I’m still gratefully JAMming with JAMband!
Influences and Inspirations
“My mom taught me how to love and be loved and how to question power, and she instilled in me a strong work ethic.”
My dad taught me how to put in my 10,000 hours and commit to something so consistently and deeply that it becomes woven into your bones — music.
My children, Jasper (22) and Silas (19), have taught me about unconditional love, and how to live for something outside of myself and my own desires. They were my first mindfulness teachers, bringing me into the present moment because there’s really no other way to be when you’re with children. They have taught me again and again how to let go, how to loosen my grip, how to trust the process. They are my greatest teachers!
My partner, Daryn — partner in life, and in creativity (he’s the engineer/producer/guitarist for all our “Charity and the JAMband” and “The Invisible Bee” albums) — helps me slow down and be in the moment. He reminds me to put on a record and just sit and listen. He makes me laugh, and sometimes that’s the most important thing.
“I’m so grateful for all the children I have had the luck to come into contact with through my work. You are the light, the joy, the magic, the reason I do what I do.”
The beginning of JAMband
If I had to state my deepest intention around my work, it would be this –
“to support people in waking up to the truth of our inter-being, with each other, with Earth, with all beings. I do this through the practices of song, dance and mindfulness.”
Teaching out of my living room, I had found my happy place in work that was aligned with my new journey of motherhood and my deep respect and care for children and their developing hearts and minds, work that tapped into my need for creativity and deep connection. The classes grew, I formed JAMband, started recording albums, and expanded my performing and teaching.
I write music that communicates, in ways that a child’s mind can understand and integrate, the values that matter most to me and that I think give us the greatest chance for survival and thrival — kindness, compassion, generosity, inter-being, truth, community, non-harming, helping, love. We sing these songs, and we dance along! I create choreography for every song, so we’re entering into our bodies (which we always remember are made of Earth), moving energy, and deepening the teachings and concepts in the lyrics. It’s healing work.
An Open Mind
When my kids were 4 and 7, meditation was recommended to me by a dear friend. I committed myself to the practice and found it to be extremely helpful in supporting my mental health and my recovery. I studied Buddhist philosophy, which led me to the teachings on inter-being, compassion, non-harming and kindness. I started weaving these teachings into my music, performances and classes. I started an outdoor concert series so we could sing and dance while surrounded by nature. I created an album of love songs for Mother Earth as my response to climate change and my deep desire to help families raise conscious, awake kids, who love Earth and therefore want to make choices that reflect that love.
“I continued to expand and experiment. Over the past 20 years, I’ve written, produced and recorded seven family music albums, trained hundreds of teachers, and performed and taught at countless festivals, schools, and events for thousands of children and families.”
I also teach meditation to grown-ups, and have created two albums of music for adults with my climate-change-aware project, The Invisible Bee. I run a program called The Vegan Journey, helping people transition to a plant-based diet.
I practice a lot of mindfulness with the kids in my programs — both through guided meditation and mindfulness practices at the end of each class, and in little ways here and there. We stop in between songs, put a hand on our hearts and a hand on our bellies, and feel the breath in the body. We say hello to our bodies, and we thank our bodies, we send love to our bodies. We listen to the sounds in the environment. We listen to the bell. We listen to each other.
With JAMband, I also have lots of songs that are just fun and aren’t necessarily about any particular teaching, because I think it’s so important for children (and all of us!) to release ourselves into joy and silliness and connection in any form.
“Kids are amazingly smart, perceptive, intuitive and wise. I see absolutely no reason to talk down to them. We have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to plant seeds of love and care when they’re young, and to water these seeds as they grow.”
So at JAMband, we sing a lot of songs about Earth and her creatures, and the truth that we are all interwoven, that we need to look out for each other, that we must leave no one out of our community, and that we’re here to listen, to love, and to liberate ourselves and all beings. I remind kids that they are enough, just as they are; that their feelings matter and that it’s ok to feel and express them, that their bodies are sacred and contain wisdom they can learn from, and that the road to happiness lies in remembering our connection.
If we’re going to wake up, as a society, we need to remember these truths, and we need to model them for, and teach them to, our kids. Modeling is probably the most important thing.
“Which is why I get out there with JAMband and sing loud and dance and move my body freely and meditate in public!”
I want to show children it’s OK to express your joy; it’s OK to move your body; it’s OK to slow down, take a breath, and rest; it’s OK to be who you are, right now, here in this moment.
Forward Thinking for the Bay Area
People are almost ready to see, en masse, that our treatment of animals is tied to our treatment of humans, the planet, and each other. I definitely see my music and message tending more in this direction as time goes on, supporting families with music and lyrics that are conscious, awake, and reflect the transition of human awareness at this unique time in our development.
As a nine-year vegan, I am passionate about supporting people in transitioning to a plant-based diet, and I do this with The Vegan Journey — for the Earth, for the animals, for health, and for social justice. My latest JAMband album, “Creatures & Critters” (released Spring 2021), is an album all about animals and our love for them, with a message woven in that they deserve love, life and liberation as much as humans do. And I have another album in the oven right now whose purpose is to support families in a fun and exciting way — through funky, singable tunes — in leading a plant-based life.
I truly believe this is the next wave of justice activism that’s waiting to happen. We cannot expect to ever have peace or justice on this Earth until we address the violence perpetuated on our non-human relatives by meat, dairy and animal consumption. I am constantly working on finding ways to address this sensitive topic compassionately and non-judgmentally in my music and teaching — because it is a process, and everyone’s at a different point along the path.
I’m scheming about creating a free monthly JAMBand family music series in a central place in San Francisco where all families will have access, so we can have big, love-filled dance parties outside in the community on a regular basis. I will also be teaching more meditation in outdoor spots as things open up, and am planning some outdoor half-day and full-day retreats for grown-ups, and maybe a longer retreat in a more remote location so we can really immerse ourselves in inter-being. And I’ll continue working with my preschools, and showing up for the Farmer’s Market, and in other places and venues that align with my values and vision.
“In general, I plan to continue creating music and events that inspire people to release their stress, move their bodies, experience joy and inter-connection, laugh and love, open their hearts, and remember that we are not separate!”
Thanks for being here. I’m David Enloe, a San Francisco family photographer. I make soul-stirring pictures for families that find adventure around every corner. Want to learn more about the person behind the camera?