Listening Ears On!: A Review Nali & Friends by Dan Sultan

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Dan Sultan, the ARIA award winning musician, is best known for his rock/country/soul adult music. Earlier this year, he spread his wings (pun intended) into children’s music with the story and song album, Nali & Friends.

Nali is an Arctic tern, a bird species who breeds in the farthest reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, then migrates across the world to the Antarctic. Nali is the smallest bird of her tribe – her mother notes, “she’s small, but she has a very big heart.” Nali also has a crooked wing, which contributes to her accidental separation from her parents and sister en route. Her big heart leads her on a worldwide journey to find her family again. Along the way, she meets and is helped by a number of quirky, freehearted animals who help her along.

The tracks on the album alternate between spoken word narrative and songs, tracing Nali’s trip and her new animal friends. Like Sultan’s adult music, the songs are largely rock-country fusions with warm, clear vocals.

The title track, “Nali,” is a gentle, encouraging sing-a-long with bright percussion backing, soaring, just like the little bird, who “can fly as high as you want,” despite her crooked wing. This sets up the idea that little Nali is strong enough to make the journey ahead.

The friends she encounters along the way are all funny, unique characters. Landing in Africa, Nali meets Bwinidi, a “windy” gorilla (and if fart-songs aren’t your thing, don’t give up here – anyway, your kids will think it’s funny). Later, she notices Tembo, a giraffe who believes she is an elephant. It’s a song about following your heart to be what you feel you are inside – “Tembo, which way will you go? You should go the way that your heart tells you to.

Back over the ocean, Nali notices Bobby, an Elvis-style blob fish with a stutter that doesn’t stop him from having fun with his friends. Flying on, she comes across an armadillo who loves to learn, but isn’t allowed in school, so gets lessons from his human best friend.

After many more days of flying, she finds herself in China, meeting YaYa, a panda who loves to dance, and has a 70s-soul dance break. Flying on to Borneo, Nali meets Putu, a proboscis monkey who falls in love with something new every day, as commemorated in a country crooner-turned rockabilly groove.

On to Australia, in the desert, Gutamala, a frill-necked lizard is loved by her friends, despite her unusual startle reflex. And, in the Australian forest, Nali meets Koomba, a shy potoroo (I had to look up potoroos – worth it – they’re adorable marsupials – equally as cute as Koomba’s best friend, a quokka!).

Nali’s trip finishes up over the southern ocean, with the help of Macca, a macaroni penguin and his friend, Greg, a humpack whale. She has a sweet reunion with her family in the Antarctic, having made friends all over the world, and ending on the refrain “there is nothing that you can’t do.”

Nali & Friends is a big-hearted journey across the world, both educational and lovely to listen to. Playing the story all the way through would be the perfect for a family car trip. It holds appeal for all ages. Kids will love learning about the unusual animals, adults will appreciate the messages of friendship and kindness, and everyone will be taken in by the music.

Nali & Friends is published by ABC Music. Read more about Dan Sultan at his website. Nali is available on his site and on Amazon Music and other streaming services.

Read the rest of our Listening Ears On reviews for more non-annoying children’s music!

Littlefolk by Angie Who
Little Steps, Big Adventures by Tiptoe Giants
Hey Hey, Let’s Play by Nay Nay
Helpful Songs for Little People by the Teeny Tiny Stevies
Beyond the Little Star by Benny Time
Season One by The Vegetable Plot
Here Comes Science! by They Might Be Giants
Storytime Singalong Volumes 1 and 2 by Emily Arrow
Bunny Rumble 
by Bunny Racket
Keep It Real!
 by Caspar Babypants
6 Great Christmas Albums for Kids
Scratch ‘N’ Sniff by The Sticker Club
All the Sounds by Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats
Lullabies of Broadway Act II by Mimi Bessette
Winterland by the Okee Dokee Brothers